Language matters. It really does. What we say and how we say it can be life changing. A female police officer confided in me that more than one citizen in the community she served asked if she could send for a “real police officer” to handle their concern. She took their comments in stride and proceeded to do her job, but such comments can’t help but be hurtful.
At a wedding rehearsal several years ago, I was told by a member of the wedding party that “it didn’t look like I was missing any meals.” It was a not so subtle way to communicate that I had put a few pounds on. Such language does little to help someone make better choices in in their life. I know that I was uninspired.
And I fully realize in the name of “being honest”, that I have said terribly hurtful things to others over the years. Being overly blunt and direct is frequently not the best direction to choose. Language matters.
Today I heard one of the best stories regarding language choice that I have ever heard. A friend and ministry colleague owned a gym in another life. It was a place to work out and get fit. I am quite sure she had quite the array of clients. No doubt there were men and women that could bench press their weight and then some! There were likely clients that were preparing to run marathons or triathalons. And… then there were other clients that were trying to make significant and needed lifestyle changes.
Heather was on the phone one day in her office at the gym when a client came in searching for a Band-Aid. This particular client in all likelihood had not bench pressing her weight. And I don’t think she had been preparing for a marathon either. This woman was about 75 pounds overweight. She was in the gym simply trying to shed the excess pounds that had accumulated. That is really not a great position to be in when you are surrounded by those who are in a serious athletic training mode. In fact, it takes a lot of courage.
In response to her bleeding client, my friend said to the person on the other end of the phone conversation: “I have to go. One of my athletes needs a bandage.” The lady seeking a bandage did not miss that comment. She heard it and her response was immediate. She said: “You called me one of your athletes.” A simple gesture made a difference in her life. She was not the overweight lady over there in the corner lifting weights. She was not an embarrassment to the gym. She was one of Heather’s athletes. The spontaneity of Heather’s reference to her being “one of the athletes” no doubt added to the meaningfulness of the dialogue.
Watch what you say today. Someone needs a good word. A word of encouragement could make a difference. People often see themselves in the most negative way possible. Find an athlete to speak to today. Language matters.