Be sure to taste your words before you spit them out – Anonymous.
A few years ago, I sat in a meeting where a colleague lost his temper. It wasn’t a pretty sight. In a flash of memory, he reminded me of a childhood experience.
You see, during the school holidays our parents would ship us off to visit family, older cousins, aunties, uncles or even stay with grandparents. One memory standouts of a visit to an aunt whom I now, as an adult realize, was toxic. Everything about me and my siblings was wrong: our foreheads (too large), our skin tones (too dark), name it. And she expressed this with such venom, it crashed us.
Numbed and pushed to the back of my brain, it was only much later while in high school that I felt the pang of those words. My confidence and self-esteem pretty much non-existent, I realized how hurtful those words were. And then one day at a family gathering an uncle of mine asked the teenage me what I wanted to become after high school. A doctor. I responded. “Ohh you mean a nurse?” before I could even respond, my father chimed in: "You heard her just right. A doctor – that’s what she wants to be". From that moment onwards, somehow with my father’s permission, I had a bounce in my step. I could become whatever I wanted to BE! Those word, the positive utterances – in many ways have shaped the adult me.
So watching my colleague lose his temper, undermine a colleague and pretty much made her cry, I realized just how wounded many people are. Many of us don’t even have the confidence to stand up to bullies in our work places or communities or homes. However, we have to be our brothers and sisters keepers.
With introspection, I can say comfortably that the power lies on our LIPS. Those words that form in our minds, heads, slowly or perhaps quickly finding their way to our lips, matter. That momentary split second where your brain neurons fire off an energy for your muscles to relax or tense and then you open your LIPS, is incredibly powerful. Use it wisely.
The Magic FOUR letters.
My father’s twin sister loves puzzles and taught me the love of acrostics and so with these four words I shall play with this magical four letter word: LIPS
L – Laughter is medicine
Many years ago, while living in Switzerland, I was on a train with my Caribbean sisters headed to a Jazz Festival. I was the only non-Caribbean in the group and as they spoke patwa I laughed my head off. I mean those accents, of twirls and turns. And they would joke about something from “back home”, hum of the occasional “Ya Man”. And we laughed hard and loud. Across from us were these two old Swiss ladies who after we had all gone silent, one of them just commented: How I wish I could laugh like you. We all stared at her for a split moment, then burst out laughing as one of us held her hand. And then both old ladies just burst into laughter.
With hindsight, I am glad that neither of us uttered a word. In fact, I remember being nervous about what to say. I realized there and then that even in dire situations, one ought to laugh off a situation, simply because it can be healing.
I – Inform
A few months ago, a friend was struggling in her career. She felt lost, depressed and undervalued. She reached out to a few trusted friends including myself with her concerns. Within this close inner-circle we created a safe space. I informed her of some options and the others provided insight into what she could explore, let go and even change. At that moment, I realized the importance of informing, speaking the truth without being hurtful or undermining. And also the power of sharing information.
P – Promote
If there is something that gives you an “extra” bounce in your step, it’s when others talk about your work positively, praise and recognize you. I have been very lucky in many ways and had chances were people have praised my work, given me constructive feedback and applauded me for an amazing moderation and facilitation session. And it’s because of this kind of promotion that it was even possible for me to moderate a session with a UN Secretary General, a Spanish Minister and Astronaut, last December 2019. Someone gave me that confidence and promoted my work.
I resolved a few years ago that I would promote not only the work of colleagues, but mostly young people because I was fortunate enough to have agency. Compliment someone whenever you can. Shout out positive words to them. You never know how far those amazing words can take them or simply boost their morale.
S – Soothe
If there is a community that has been incredibly wonderful to me, it’s my SheVillage. A few women I trust has been wonderful in providing a listening ear without judgment or chatter. I have walked away from their spaces feeling rejuvenated, refreshed, calm and collected. They have taught me so much about being an active listener, being a rainbow in someone’s cloud (as per Maya Angelou’s word) and just a shoulder for someone in need.
Words can be healers of spaces, broken bones and souls. Use them wisely. As the quote says: Be sure to taste your words before you spit them out.
May the healing continue.