The Handbook Online
Chapter 1: Life is Not a Sitcom
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Let everyone know that Words Can Heal. Make sure to tell your friends.
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- Print out as many copies of the book that you like
what you say
is the single
Here we are at the start of a new century. Everyone is attached to pagers, palmtops, and wireless e-mail. We spend half our lives talking on the telephone.
Yet, with this worldwide communications explosion, has there been
any improvement in the quality of our interactions? Have we learned to use
our words to bring people close to us and to intensify our joy of life?
|Words - so innocent and powerless as they are, as standing in a dictionary, how potent for good and evil they become in the hands of one who knows how to combine them. |
- Nathaniel Hawthorne
In an age when communication technology is at an all-time high, interpersonal relationships are at an all-time low. The book you are holding is designed to reverse this trend.
Quite simply, what you say is the single biggest factor that
determines your happiness in life. If you speak kind words, you will be surrounded by people who love you. If you speak damaging words, you will have strained relationships.
Our societyís sitcom mentality encourages us to belittle, embarrass, and behave cruelly to one another because the
worst human behavior is the most entertaining. Ultimately, however, we all suffer the consequences in the form of ruined relationships.
|In an age when communication technology is at an
all-time high, interpersonal relationships are at an all-time low.|
In order to begin to create healthy relationships that are filled with trust, the first hurdle we must clear is to realize the power of words. We speak without thinking and have no idea that we are causing our own unhappiness, our own loneliness. We damage ourselves, as well as others, without realizing it. But even worse, we donít take advantage of the most powerful tool we have to get what we want out of life: our words.
It was going to be one of the happiest days of eight-year-old Millieís life - today she was going swimming for the first time. Millie had grown up in a broken-down tenement on a street without a single tree and had only seen swimming pools on TV. Because of the generosity of a stranger, this year she was able to go away to camp out in the country, and today was the day she had spent months dreaming about.
Millieís bunkmates had already rushed down to the pool; it was hot and sticky, and they didnít waste any time. Millie carefully pulled out the old orange bathing suit that her cousin had given her. It was too big, but her mother had taught her to take a hair ribbon and tie up the straps so they wouldnít come down.
Wrapped in a towel, Millie ventured down to the pool in a brand new pair of rubber thongs. The other girls were frolicking in the water, and Millie bolstered her courage to go in through the gate. She pulled off her towel and stood staring at the beautiful pool with its bright blue walls and shimmering water. It was like a dream.
As she held onto the rail, about to put her foot onto the step, she heard someone shouting across the pool. It was the lifeguard.
She yelled at Millie, "Hey, where did you get that ugly bathing suit? At a garage sale for clowns?" Everyone roared with laughter.
The sitcom laugh track had taught all of these children that it is fine to laugh at someone who is being heartlessly ridiculed.
Millie ran back to the bunk and did not go swimming that entire summer, or for the next seven years. To this day, Millie, mother of three, speaks of this incident with great pain.
Making fun of someone creates anguish
and painful memories. Our relationships suffer
when we care more about getting approval for our wit
than we do about other people.
Eric sat on the bench praying that his teammate would strike out.
It was the bottom of the ninth inning, one teammate was on first, and if this teammate also made it to first, then Eric would be up to bat. The fate of the team would be in Eric's hands, and he knew he could not take the pressure.
The boy swung the bat. Strike two! Eric bit his lower lip. Just one more strike and the game would be over. They would be losers, but not because of him.
The pitcher threw the ball squarely over the plate. The boy swung hard and grounded the ball deep into left field. Now there were boys on second and third base. Eric was up.
He wished he could sink into the ground and disappear.
Eric was tall and lanky, with terrible acne and no social skills. No one sat next to him on the bus, and he didnít have a single friend. He even felt as if his parents didnít care about him. His dad had never come to any of the games until today. Of all the games, why did it have to be this one?
Eric stepped up to home plate. He tapped the dirt off the plate. . . anything to delay the inevitable.
The pitcher eyed him with confidence and took two steps in, to intimidate him and show he didnít expect much from Eric. There was laughter in the stands.
The pitcher wound up and threw the ball in for a clean strike.
Eric knew it. It was inescapable. No wonder his father didnít come to the games. Just as he had said, Eric wasnít worth watching.
Pitch two came in. . . a ball. Lucky break.
Eric choked up on the bat and took a deep breath.
The umpire called a strike before Eric even realized that the pitch was coming.
Now it was the moment of truth. Would Eric be a loser for the rest of his life or have one proud moment he could savor forever?
The pitcher played it for all it was worth. He adjusted his cap. He tossed the ball to his glove and loosened up his arms.
He eyed Eric. The killer look. He wound up and threw.
|We never know all the circumstances of other peopleís lives. If we paused to consider how much pain others might be in, we would never speak meanly to anyone.|
Strike three. Ericís head fell, and he dropped the bat onto the ground. The boys from the other team let out yelps and clapped each otherís backs as they ran in. Ericís team walked right by him as if he didnít exist.
In telling this story, Eric, now a fifty- eight - year - old recovering alcoholic, said that he could have survived all that. But what happened next is what sent him on a destructive tailspin that lasted for most of his life.
His father came down from
the stands and, in front of everyone there, shouted, "Anybody know where they take returns on rejects?"
|If you say as many kind words as you can in the course
of a day, you will nurture everyone around you and be much loved.|
Long after his dad died, the words that he had spoken some forty years earlier still caused Eric pain.
It was not just this incident that ruined Ericís self-esteem, but it typified what his childhood was like.
He grew up on the tired refrains of "Youíre worthless, youíll never amount to anything, youíre a good-for-nothing."
These words became Ericís reality.
If you find yourself about to say something cruel,
remember that the words you say in a fit
of anger will last a lifetime.
Fran was standing on a street corner consoling Lisa, who had just lost a baby in the sixth month of pregnancy. Saying goodbye to Fran, the still-distraught Lisa stepped off the curb too early, causing a passing car to swerve. The irritated driver shrieked at her, "Get off the road, you fat pig!"
Lisa sobbed into Franís arms for what seemed like hours.
Harsh words from a stranger can really hurt.
They give us the feeling that the whole world is against us. How beautiful it is to spread joy instead of
pain by simply biting your tongue and maybe
even saying something nice.
When we refrain from speaking cruelly, those
around us benefit, and our self-esteem also
skyrockets because we feel better about
ourselves. All it takes is determination to
make speaking kind words a habit.
Connie walked down the aisle smiling for the camera.
The wedding was set in a beautiful, flower-filled garden with giant weeping willows in the background. It was a hazy, warm day with a little breeze - just perfect.
The musician was playing a beautiful melody as Connie walked up the steps toward the groom.
|Our self-esteem often waxes and wanes with the circumstances. Understanding this,
we should never insult others, and we must always pay careful attention to the timing of constructive criticism.|
There was only one problem. It was not her groom. It was her younger sisterís
wedding, and Connie was the bridesmaid. Judy always seemed to get everything first.
At the reception, Connie felt very much the outsider as her sisterís friends
fussed over the bride. She sat at the head table watching everyone dance, feeling sorry for
Connie felt relieved when Aunt Joan came and sat down in the seat next to her.
But then her aunt decided to give her this bit of advice: "Connie, darling, if you would just
lose twenty pounds, you would be married too."
So much anguish is caused because we
simply do not think about another personís feelings
before we speak. Often, in an effort to help someone,
we say things that are very cruel. Unasked-for
advice is better left unsaid.
Every day, Mrs. Lyle squatted down in front of Michaelís desk. First she said good morning to all of the other first graders, and then she had her special time with Michael. She told him he looked nice and that they were going to have a great day today. Perhaps, she encouraged, this would be the day he would say his first word in class.
Michael spoke fine at home. His mother said that he used to have a lisp, but he
had grown out of it. She couldnít figure out why Michael had not talked in school for over a year.
Day after day, Mrs. Lyle gained Michaelís trust, until one day,
as he helped her clean the cupboard, Michael confided the following story:
It was late autumn of the year before, and the leaves were falling from the trees.
Michael, who still had a lisp then, was running around with all of the other kids
on the playground. Suddenly, a squirrel darted down a tree.
|Just donít laugh. No matter how funny a joke is, if itís at someone
elseís expense, donít even crack a smile. It may stop the joker from hurting others
in the future.|
Michael yelled out, "I thaw a thquirrel!" as he pointed over to the
One of the popular kids stopped in his tracks. "What?" he asked, affecting interest.
"I thaw a thquirrel!" Michael repeated in his innocence.
The popular kid howled with laughter and repeated the sentence again and again.
Soon all the other kids took up the chant, and Michael was mortified.
Those were the last words he uttered in school.
This story has a happy ending only through the loving care of Mrs. Lyle, who took the time to build up Michaelís trust. Her patience finally changed the situation.
Sadly, there are not enough people like Mrs. Lyle to go around.
There is no deeper wound than humiliation.
The momentary glory we may feel in humiliating
someone is short-lived compared to the
damage we cause.
Shelly had just come through a terrible postpartum depression. It had lasted five miserable months. She had been unable to take any medication for it because she was breast-feeding her daughter.
On the day that the clouds just seemed to lift all by themselves, Shelly received an invitation to an office party at her old workplace. Shelly had been a gregarious individual, but in the past year she had withdrawn, not feeling up to interacting with people. But this party seemed the perfect opportunity to get back into the swing of things.
On the night of the party, Shelly changed her outfit five times. Nothing fit anymore, but she wanted to look perfect. Her expectations of the evening were overblown.
When she and her husband arrived at the party, several people greeted them at the door and complimented Shelly on how wonderful she looked. That made her feel great.
Later, she stood talking to a group for a while, feeling a bit awkward.
Out of nervousness she began talking about herself. Before she knew it, she found herself telling the group all about her depression, something she had had no intention of doing.
|If you come from a long line of people who spoke
callously to one another, resolve to be the one to break the pattern. You
will not only have a better life, but your legacy will last forever. |
One by one, the people standing in the group excused themselves, one to get a drink, another to get some food, until Shelly was left standing by herself. The color ran from her face as she stood in the middle of the room, alone. Wouldnít someone rescue her?
Just then her husband came over to her. She was relieved, but then she saw his angry face and heard his angry voice as he hollered: "Just because youíre a lunatic doesnít mean you have to drag me down with you! What business do you have telling everyone our affairs? Get your coat and get in the car."
Cruelty from the people closest to us stings the most.
Yet people feel most at liberty to be merciless with
their loved ones. We all need a safe haven, but it
takes effort to create one. Start by being careful
with your own words, and hope that, in
time, those around you will follow.
|People who feel free to be bad tempered around their families are doing nothing more than indulging in wanton cruelty. They pay the price in terms of lack of closeness and trust in their relationships.|
At age fifty-nine, Roland was laid off from his accounting job. He was so stunned that he didnít have the heart to tell his family. Instead, he borrowed money from his cousin Andy to pay the bills as he searched in vain to find other employment.
Every morning, Roland got dressed as if he were going to work, but he spent the day searching the want ads. He was certain that he would get a lucky break any day now, and his family would never be the wiser.
The holidays came, and it was time for the annual party at his in-lawsí house. The entire clan would be there, as well as dozens of long-time family friends. Roland considered feigning illness, but the inquiries afterward would not be worth it.
|Television humor teaches us that itís fine to ridicule people and that feelings donít matter. Maybe itís time to choose a different teacher.|
On the night of the event, Roland claimed to have an emergency at work and told his family to go ahead without him. He figured that getting there late and leaving early would at least make the event bearable. He had not had one job interview in three months and felt like a complete failure.
When he finally arrived at the party, he felt sick to his stomach. He poured himself a double scotch and sat alone in the corner.
A few minutes later his wife pulled him into a circle of people talking about their latest purchases. Just then, he saw his cousin Andy walking toward him. Roland shuddered with fear. Andy was the only one who knew about his situation.
Andy asked Roland why he didnít return his phone calls. He said loudly, "You better pay me back; youíre going to lose your house anyway!"
The whole room went silent. Roland turned beet red and said that he didnít know what Andy was talking about.
Andy shouted, "You know exactly what Iím talking about, you phony! Just because you lost your job doesnít mean I have to suffer. Sell the house, you good-for-nothing!"
All eyes were on Roland. It would sound idiotic to deny what Andy said, so Roland just ran out of the house. He jumped into his car and sped down the street. He was in such a frenzy that he crashed head-on with an oncoming car.
Words have the power to take a life.
If you think of your mouth as a deadly weapon,
you will be far more careful in times of anger
and frustration. You can never fully know the
quiet pain of the listener or what the consequences
of your words might be.
- Making fun of someone causes anguish and painful memories.
- If you find yourself about to say something cruel, remember that the words you say in a
fit of anger will last a lifetime.
- Harsh words from a stranger can really hurt.
- So much anguish is caused because we simply do not think about another personís feelings before we speak.
- There is no deeper wound than humiliation.
- Cruelty from the people closest to us stings the most.
- Words have the power to take a life. If you think of your mouth as a deadly weapon, you will be far more careful.
|Reckless Words pierce like a sword|
- King Solomon