Words Can Heal Archive


A "Best-Wishing" Hour
Bullies and Popular Kids
Bully Prevention Pledge - Students
Dealing with Children Who are Different
Encouraging Words
Family Vacations
Florence Henderson’s Mother’s Day Tips
The Gift of Friendship
Girls and Words
The Greatest Gift My Dad Ever Gave Me
Groups and Gossip
Harry Potter and the Magic of Words
How to Let Your Father Know You Care
Learning Life Skills
Mindful Listening with Children
An Open Letter from a Parent
People We Often Forget to Thank
Pointers For Eliminating Negative Speech
The Roots of Gossip-Part 1
The Roots of Gossip-Part 2
Some Things to Thank Your Father For
“Watching Your Words at the Water Cooler” – Part I
“Watching Your Words at the Water Cooler” – Part II
What do words and armaments have in common?
Words and Bosses
Your Best Asset

Harry Potter and the Magic of Words

Among Harry Potter's many courses at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry was Professor Flitwick's class in charms. In this course the students learned that by saying certain words in a certain way, they could make magic happen.

You don't have to be a wizard or witch to work magical transformations with your words. Try these magic formulas, for example: You can transform a defeated, dispirited person into a happy, confident person by saying: "That was terrific! You did a great job!" in an enthusiastic, affectionate tone.

* You can transform a person with a poor self-image into a person who feels good about his/her looks by saying: "You look great/gorgeous today," in a tone of sincere admiration.

* You can transform a person who feels unloved and friendless into a person who feels valued and appreciated by saying: "How about getting together after school today? I'd really like to spend some time with you," in a genuinely friendly tone.

* You can magically heal a person's emotional wounds by pronouncing the magic formula: "I'm sorry for what I did. It was thoughtless and inconsiderate. I want to be friends with you." Don't forget the required tone: sincerely sorry.

Even before Harry arrived at Hogwarts, he experienced possibly the greatest magic in his life, from Hagrid the giant. Harry had spent his whole young life as the unwanted, unloved, powerless object of his Uncle Vernon's and Aunt Petunia's abuse and his cousin Dudley's bullying. When Hagrid burst into the hut on the rock and told Harry that he was a wizard--and a famous, powerful wizard at that--, who had defeated the world's greatest sorcerer Voldemort, Harry felt sure there had been a mistake. His low self-esteem could not accept this new, wondrous identity.

Hagrid, with "warmth and respect blazing in his eyes," looked at Harry and assured him that this marvelous identity really belonged to him. Then Hagrid uttered a statement of faith in Harry's future: "You wait, you'll be right famous at Hogwarts."

And Harry transformed from an introverted nerd with zero self-confidence into . . . the daring, brave hero the world adores. Can there be any greater magic than that?

Activity for Family and Classroom: Role-play the following situations:

1. Pat just failed a test - the second time in a row.

Pat: "I'm so dumb. I have air where my brain's supposed to be." What can you say to encourage and support Pat?

Possible response: "Don't worry, you'll do better next time. We'll study together. Maybe you're not studying the right stuff."

Hint: The important thing is not what you say, but that Pat feels that you care about and have faith in him/her.

2. Jamie tried out for the basketball team, but didn't make it. A few weeks later, Jamie tried out for the school play, but didn't get the part.

Jamie: "I'm such a loser. I'm not good at anything."

What can you say to Jamie to encourage and support?

Possible response: "That's not true. You're one of the best computer geniuses in the class. Remember the time my computer crashed before I could print out my final paper, and you managed to retrieve it? Not many kids would come over at 11:30 at night to help out a friend."

Hint: Everyone has a talent or strong point. A kid who gets bad grades may be creative with her hands. A kid with two left feet on the soccer field may have a knack with younger children. The best favor you can do for someone else is to help him/her to recognize his/her own strengths.

Source: Brought to you by www.verticalresponse.com Visit www.WordsCanHeal.org for more ideas on how to heal with words. And spread the word! Send this message out today -- together we can make a difference!

Pointers For Eliminating Negative Speech

On June 4, Academy Award-winning actress Susan Sarandon brought the message of Words Can Heal to a national TV audience. The popular ABC daytime talk show The View featured as its Celebrity Hot Topic the subject of gossip. Ms. Sarandon appeared with Star Jones, Meredith Vieira, Lisa Ling, and Joy Behar in a lively discussion about gossip, rumors, and verbal violence.

“Words Can Heal is a group that’s trying to make people realize the power of words, both to heal and to hurt,” Ms. Sarandon declared with genuine enthusiasm. When challenged by the other stars as to what people would talk about if they didn’t gossip about other people, Ms. Sarandon recommended talking about current events and humanitarian issues.

We appreciate Ms. Sarandon’s zest in endorsing the message of Words Can Heal. And we hope that all of you will continue to “pass it along . . .”

Susan Sarandon’s Pointers For Eliminating Negative Speech:

1. Realize that negative speech, whether by children in fifth grade or adults around the water cooler, can have serious harmful ramifications that can affect people for years.

2. Develop techniques to eliminate verbal violence in families. Stop and think before you lash out, because family members know where relatives are vulnerable, and a cutting remark or derogatory name stays with a person even after they’ve made peace.

3. Give your children tools for dealing with sticky situations. When kids are dumping on another child, such as calling him “ugly” or calling her “fat,” it may be too much to expect your child to stick up for the victim. You can, however, teach your child to say, “I’m not comfortable with this,” and distance him/herself from the scene. Afterwards your child will feel better about him/herself, and the abusive kids may get the message.

4. Recognize how much damage verbal violence does. According to polls, 90% of Americans consider peer teasing and shunning during adolescence to be a problem. Star Jones quoted a Words Can Heal poll that found that 63 million Americans admitted that people say something untrue about them at least once a week. Eliminating harmful speech is a cause worth working for.

What Else Are We Supposed to Talk About?

During the TV broadcast, Ms. Sarandon mentioned a personal anecdote. She arranged a sleepover party for her daughter’s 11th birthday. When the girls were all assembled, she said, “Can we just try to not talk about somebody who’s not here?” (See rewritten paragraph below – during the segment, Susan made reference to the girls “really flexing their muscles” in gossiping. I have rewritten this paragraph to be truer to the context.

Ms. Sarandon made reference to a personal anecdote during the TV broadcast. At a sleepover party she gave for her 11-year-old daughter, the girls were gossiping about others – “really flexing their muscles”. Ms. Sarandon finally said, “Can we just try to not talk about somebody who’s not here?

The response: One little girl looked up and asked, “Then what are we supposed to talk about?

Amusingly or pathetically enough, the stars on The View flung the same challenge at Ms. Sarandon: If we don’t talk about the latest romantic and legal woes of celebrities, what can we talk about?

Here are some suggestions from Words Can Heal for alternatives to gossip at every age:

Alternatives to Gossip

* For Adolescents: Personal problems they’re grappling with, such as too much homework, a room that’s too small, their desire for a pet vs. their parent’s allergy to dog hair, ways to earn money for guitar lessons.

* For Teenagers: Conflicts about their future, such as the desire to be an actor/actress vs. the reluctance to move so far away from home, or the aspiration to be a doctor vs. the aversion to spending eight years plus in higher ed.

* For Adults: World events and issues, such as the proper response to Afghanistan’s call for an American peace-keeping force to prevent rape and other civilian atrocities, or the ongoing practice of slavery in the Sudan, or the financial plight of Argentina, or how, post-9/11, we can create “a better normal.”

Source: Brought to you by www.verticalresponse.com Visit www.WordsCanHeal.org for more ideas on how to heal with words. And spread the word! Send this message out today -- together we can make a difference!

The Gift of Friendship

The holiday season is the very best time of year. It means warm gatherings of the whole family, delicious feasts, and lots of great presents. Right?

Not for everyone . . .

Lisa is the only child of divorced parents who live in different states. Every year her parents fight the “War of the Worlds” over who will get Lisa for Christmas. No matter who wins, Lisa loses. She spends the holiday feeling miserable about the other parent who is spending Christmas alone.

Jeff’s father was laid off his hi-tech job last January. His mother went back to work, but she earns scarcely a third of the salary his father was making. Paying the mortgage for their lovely suburban home and putting food on the table has eaten up their whole savings. Jeff’s mother told him, with tears in her eyes, that they can’t afford presents this holiday.

Every year Jenny and her mother go to her grandmother’s house for Christmas dinner. Jenny hates it. Her grandmother always makes critical remarks about Jenny’s father. Her two uncles try to outdo each other with sarcastic put-downs of everyone in the family, including Jenny. And Jenny’s cousins, who live in two-income families, try to make her feel bad about all the stuff they have that Jenny doesn’t.

This Holiday Season, Give the Gift of Friendship

You cannot solve major problems that plague some of your classmates and friends. But there is much you can do to make their holiday season happier.

Be sensitive to what’s going on. Just because a classmate lives in a big house doesn’t mean his family isn’t financially strapped. A youngster’s sense of deprivation at not being able to afford what his friends have is compounded by embarrassment. If a friend makes repeated excuses for not going bowling or to the movies, maybe it’s because he doesn’t have the money. What can you do? Don’t put him in a potentially embarrassing position by insisting he come. Don’t brag about all the great gifts you got this holiday. Don’t ask him what he got.

Provide a listening ear. Most problems feel less burdensome after they’re shared with a friend. By speaking about difficult life situations, everyone feels somewhat relieved. And just the fact that a caring friend wants to help provides real compensation for even major life crises. What can you do? Don’t pry, but let your friend know that if she wants to talk about her apprehensions about the forthcoming holiday, you’ll be a sympathetic, non-judgmental listener. The point of listening is not to provide a solution (many problems cannot be solved), but to validate the feelings your friend expresses: “Of course you don’t like listening to your grandmother roast your father. Nobody would!”

Show concern. Don’t assume that everyone in your class is busy enjoying a great vacation. If you know someone who is a single child or from a divorced home or seems troubled, reach out and be a friend. What can you do? Pick up the phone and call. “Just wanted to know how you’re doing …” is a non-threatening, caring opener. Or invite him/her over to your house to do something fun. Knowing that his/her company is valued can lift anyone’s spirits.

Lend. Giving someone a hand-out may humiliate him/her. Borrowing, however, is not demeaning. What can you do? If you intuit that someone is not going ice-skating with the gang because he doesn’t have ice skates that fit, scrounge around your house for an extra pair and lend them to him. If one of your classmates took a part-time job after Halloween, perhaps it was to earn money for holiday presents. A loan of $50 may help her buy that present for her mother that she was working toward.

How about adopting this motto? This is the season of "good will toward men." Let it start with me.

Source: Brought to you by www.verticalresponse.com Visit www.WordsCanHeal.org for more ideas on how to heal with words. And spread the word! Send this message out today -- together we can make a difference!

How to Let Your Father Know You Care

Father’s Day is now approaching. While loving, grateful words are always in order, especially in family relationships, Father’s Day is a unique opportunity to thank your father, in your own written words, for anything from a life lesson to a special 13th birthday gift. We recommend doing this even:

Words can heal. Even without delving into the roots of rocky relationships, appreciative words, by accentuating the positive, can heal strained relationships. The result is that both you and your father will feel happier and more at peace.

Ten minutes of concentrated thought will most likely yield the kind of memories that one Words Can Heal member cherishes about his father:

Mindful Listening with Children

Prior to a mindful listening workshop I gave in Chicago, a mother, who introduced herself as “Clair” took me aside to tell me why she wanted to improve her ability to listen. She was terribly hurt when she found out that her 11-year-old son was experiencing problems at school. Apparently, another child in the 6th grade was teasing him on a regular basis. He was humiliating her son for his ability to get along well with the teachers – for being a teacher’s pet, so to speak. Clair’s son was not very good at sports, which gave this bully another reason to chide him.

Clair hadn’t noticed that her son was depressed or mopey – sure signs of trouble in school. What really hurt Clair was that her son was sharing his miseries with “someone else” – Mrs. Loring, his soccer coach. At first, she was angry with the coach and suspected something fishy. But later, after observing the way Mrs. Loring interacted and listened to the children, Clair understood why her son shared these problems with his coach.

Clair and her husband were good parents. They were always there to offer their children advice and encouragement. When things would go wrong, they always jumped in with ways to “fix” the problems. If they noticed their child a bit down after losing a game or not getting an invitation to a birthday party, Clair and her husband would get them to think about something else. They would make comments like “Oh don’t worry, you played very well. You know the game better than that referee!” or “Cheer up, there will be other parties!” This is why Clair was so upset…if only her son had talked to her first she could have given him a dozen ways to deal with this bully!

Therein was the difference between Clair and the soccer coach. Mrs. Loring watched the children on the team carefully. She could always tell when somebody had a bad day. Occasionally Mrs. Loring would take a child aside and ask them how they were doing. Then she would say nothing. She watched them in silence, attentive silence. After a couple minutes the child would invariably mention another child’s name or bring up a situation that happened. More silence… Then the child would start to cry or tell more about what happened. After she heard most of the story (and this usually takes only about 10 minutes) Mrs. Loring would ask the child, “What do you think you should do? Let’s share some ideas.” No advice unless asked. No denying that the child’s experience really hurt. Just trying to “get into the child’s movie” and understand what they’re feeling.

Probably the most painful part was that Clair’s son felt “safe” speaking to Mrs. Loring more than her. He trusted that Mrs. Loring would not judge or advise him, but would just listen. As parents, listening to ourselves is the hardest thing to do. Less is sometimes more. Our words (or lack of words!) can strengthen the connection between ourselves and our children. Hearing our child’s solutions to problems first, rather than feeding them the answers all the time, will help them be better problem solvers as adults. Plus, they will feel better about listening to you.

Source: By Rebecca Shafir author of The Zen of Listening: Mindful Communication in the Age of Distraction. Visit www.WordsCanHeal.org for more ideas on how to heal with words. And spread the word! Send this message out today -- together we can make a difference!

Dealing with Children Who are Different

Lia was born with two fingers missing from her left hand, and stumps of fingers on her right hand. Her parents, Hannah and Mark, were determined to help their child overcome her disability. They encouraged her motor development, as well as her sense of competency. As soon as she could hold a crayon, she was coloring in the O’s in the daily newspaper. At age three, she started playing the flute. Growing up in a close-knit neighborhood, where all the families had been friends for years, little Lia was accepted and loved by her young playmates.

In the summer of Lia’s sixth year, her family moved to a different city. Hannah and Mark enrolled Lia for first grade in a parochial school where all the children came from far-flung areas of the city. On the first day of school, most of the first-grade pupils were strangers to each other; all of them were strangers to Lia.

Lia came home from the first day of school devastated, in tears, swearing she would never go back to that school. When she stopped crying enough to speak, she told how the other children had made fun of her, had run away from her, and had called her, “monster.”

Mark and Hannah were caught off-guard. Since Lia’s acceptance had never been a problem in the old neighborhood, they had not prepared her for the possible cruelty and rejection of her new peers. Mark, a management consultant, struggled to find a way to redeem the situation, to put a positive spin on Lia’s “differentness,” to use words to heal.

Finally, holding Lia lovingly in his lap, Mark asked her, “Do you know the names of all the other kids in your class?”

Lia responded with a tearful, “No!”

Mark continued. “Do you think there’s any kid in the class who knows the names of all the other kids?”

Lia had to think about this. “No,” she finally answered.

“Do you think that there’s any kid in the class who everybody else knows by name?”

Lia’s mind was switching tracks. She pondered the question, and replied, “No, probably not.”

“Do you think that all the kids in the class know your name?”

Lia admitted, “Yeah, they probably do.”

“So,” her father suggested, “Isn’t there something positive about that?”

Lia thought about it, and decided, “Yeah, it’s special that everybody knows my name.”

The next day she went back to school.

An Interview with Lia

Lia is now twenty-one years old and a student of international relations at a prestigious university. Words Can Heal interviewed Lia about her experiences and her perspectives.

WCH: What shouldn’t children do when they see someone who is different?

Lia: Until the age of ten or eleven, I was much more sensitive to the reactions of other children. Children would point at my hands and whisper, or they would point and whisper and look like they didn’t want to get near me. Sometimes they would tell me not to touch them or their stuff. I would run away crying.

WCH: So it wasn’t the staring that hurt as much as the feeling of rejection, of their being repulsed by what they saw?

Lia: Yes. Now that I’m older, I can’t imagine noticing something odd and not looking at it. Staring is probably natural. It’s not totally out of line.

WCH: What should children do when they see someone who is different?

Lia: Most of the time, if they just ask me, “What happened to your hands?” I think that’s great. I tell them, “I was born that way.” Sometimes people ask if it hurts. That’s also a fine response.

WCH: In other words, it’s not their noticing that’s painful, but their distancing themselves. When they approach you and talk about it, they show that they want to make a connection. That feels good.

Lia: Another sensitive response is to ask someone who is already my friend, “What happened to her hands?” It’s good to be interested in something different. It doesn’t have to be hurtful.

WCH: How did your parents help you cope when children taunted you?

Lia: My mother always told me not to walk away. Instead, to stay there and show them that they didn’t get the better of me. She taught me that children who act in such a hurtful, mean way are really the unfortunate ones, because they lack the proper education in how to behave. She used to tell me, “You don’t really want to be friends with kids who laugh at other people.”

My parents worked hard to encourage my sense of competency, in art and music and using my hands in different ways. Till today, I am very artistic and musical. I use my hands better than the average person. I have no doubt that whatever steps I’ve made in life were thanks to the foundation my parents laid in the beginning.

WCH: What advice would you give to parents in how to train their children to deal with people who are different?

Lia: From an early age, my parents told me that each person is different in his or her own way. Some people have big ears. Some people have big feet. Some people have different color skin. How boring life would be if everyone were exactly the same!

Nobody’s perfect. Each person has something messed up in body or personality or family. I’m pretty lucky that my defect in life is my hands. It’s so external. I’ve gained so much from it.

WCH: What have you gained?

Lia: A strong personality and a perspective on a person’s true worth, also my psychological and spiritual development. It has brought so many positive things into my life, and it hasn’t set me back in any way. You know that people who are blind hear better. My hands gave me advantages in other facets of life. It was a good thing.

Tips for parents and teachers

Ask your children: How would you like it if you were teased because you have curly hair . . . or freckles . . . or eyeglasses? Or because you’re tall . . . or short . . . or skinny . . . or plump? If you wouldn’t like it, don’t do it to others.” Empathy is a lesson that even young children can learn.

Children have a great desire to “be normal.” Ask your children to look around and define what “normal” is. They’ll notice that there is a large range of differences between individuals. Assure them that differences are normal!

Ask your children: “Which is a worse defect, to have only nine fingers or to be mean and hurtful? Can a person with nine fingers be kind? Who would you more likely trust with a secret, a kind kid with nine fingers or a mean, hurtful kid? Who would you rather be shipwrecked on a desert island with?”

Source: Visit www.WordsCanHeal.org for more ideas on how to heal with words. And spread the word! Send this message out today -- together we can make a difference!

The Greatest Gift My Dad Ever Gave Me

“I would like to share a story about the greatest gift my Dad ever gave me. Over ten years ago my Mom and Dad and one of my brothers jumped into their car to drive across the country to visit my brother and his family in California, where he was stationed in the military.

My Father went into a truck stop somewhere in Texas on Christmas Eve and saw a somewhat sad man sitting at the counter. In talking with the man, my father found out that he was on his way home for Christmas, but was somewhat strapped due to his job not panning out, and it was hard to go home empty handed. My dad proceeded to the truck stop store, purchased some wonderful stuffed animals from Santa, and told him to go home now. My parents were driving because they couldn't afford to fly, but that didn't prevent my Father from doing the little thing that made a difference for so many lives, including mine.

Also, when I was growing up, every Thanksgiving we had strange men of every nationality at our table. My Dad and Mom would go to the military base and invite the ones who couldn't get home or had no family. This was during the Vietnam War. I can't remember many of the Christmas or Birthday presents from over the years, but I proudly remember my parents’ caring concern for strangers, some of whom made the ultimate sacrifice.

I also remember making a disparaging remark about Russians when anti-Communism was at a high. I remember my Father saying, ‘Be thankful that we don't have the problems that the families there do. They’re just people trying their best in the situation that they are in.’

It's amazing what sticks with you. It's definitely not the material stuff.”

Some Things to Thank Your Father For

Here are some suggestions for what to express appreciation to your father for:

Source: WordsCanHeal.Org

Related Issue: Anti-Bullying Pledge - Students

Girls and Words

A March morning on the school bus:

Billy, the school bully, is picking on Jeff, a "90-pound weakling." Billy twists Jeff's arm behind his back until he shrieks out in pain. Billy laughs and lets him go.

A group of girls in the back of the bus are observing the scene with disdain.

"Billy's an animal," says Jennifer condescendingly.

"Even animals don't inflict pain just for the fun of it," Beth adds scornfully.

"He's disgusting," Anna chimes in.

The bus stops and Claire gets on. She walks down the aisle to the back, and is about to sit down next to Beth.

"Sorry, that seat's taken," Jennifer declares.

"I don't see anyone in it," Claire replies, somewhat confused. Just yesterday, these girls were her friends.

Beth, taking her cue from Jennifer, puts her hand on the seat and states, "It's saved . . . for someone important. Why don't you just find a seat next to . . . Jeff or some other loser."

The three girls snicker. Claire, humiliated, turns around and retraces her steps up the aisle. She finds an empty seat. She has no idea why her former friends are shunning her. She hears them giggling and whispering. Although she's too far away to make out what they're saying, she's sure they're talking about her. She wishes she hadn't come to school today.

Which is worse?

Since March is Women's History Month, this issue of the newsletter focuses on "Girls and Words." Females are often considered more verbally communicative. This can be a double-edged sword. A person who uses words more to express his/her feelings tends to be more nurturing; mothers, caregivers, and teachers can build up their charges' self-esteem with encouraging words. But words can also be used negatively; many girls excel at destroying another's self-esteem with embarrassing remarks or pointed barbs. In fact, studies have shown that girls are more likely than boys to hurt others with words.

Although most of us look with disapproval at the class bully - the boy who terrorizes other boys with his fists - the girl who ridicules or shuns other girls may well be the most popular girl in the class.

This is ironic, because the damage inflicted by words is far more insidious than the damage inflicted by fists, for several reasons:

Most people look down on physical violence, but verbal violence, especially when it is witty, often elicits approval and admiration.

Physical wounds are obvious. They are easily treated by a parent or the school nurse. Wounded feelings are usually concealed, so that even the most well-meaning parent or teacher cannot help.

Physical wounds usually heal within a week or two. Damaged self-esteem can last a lifetime.

A child can keep himself out of harm's way by keeping his distance from the class bully. Distance, however, does not hinder the harm that can be done by words. Ridicule and shunning thrive over the telephone and e-mail. There is almost no way to protect oneself against it.

The damage inflicted by words is subtler. Therefore, the problem is less likely to be addressed and dealt with by school administration and staff.

If you are a girl, or teach girls, or have daughters, consider this: The emotional wounds that girls inflict through their words hurt more than those caused by any knife.

A girl who uses her verbal skills for cruel ends is like drawing a mustache on the Mona Lisa. All the beauty of the Mona Lisa can be destroyed by two strokes of a magic marker. So, too, a girl's self-esteem can be obviated by just a few mean words directed at a classmate or erstwhile friend.

Discussion Question

According to Jennifer and the girls, why was it okay to alienate Claire, but not okay to pick on Jeff?

A "Best-Wishing" Hour

Parties can be a field day of back-biting gossip. Conversely, parties can also be a wonderful opportunity for using words to heal. A relaxed social setting, surrounded by friends or family, is a perfect time to express positive, strengthening feelings about the host(s) or guest(s) of honor. Taking a half hour in the middle of the party for guests to share appreciative and encouraging sentiments can turn a superficial good time into a profoundly meaningful event.

Here is an example of how a “best wishing hour” works:

Joan recently bought a condominium and is throwing a house-warming party. A mid-level corporate executive, Joan has invited co-workers, friends, and relatives. There is a bittersweet quality to the celebration. Twice divorced, Joan would prefer to live with a husband and children in a house in the suburbs.

- Half way through the party, when almost all the guests are present, Joan’s co-worker Larry clinks on his glass to get everyone’s attention. He says: “I just want to take this opportunity to express to you, Joan, how much I enjoy working with you. I admire your whole-hearted dedication to the company, and your perseverance in getting the job done, even when that requires extra hours that nobody else wants to put in. Even when we don’t agree, you have the truly wonderful quality of putting the good of the company ahead of your own ideas, and admitting that I’m right! (laughter) Seriously, in terms of putting the company first you are truly a role model for me. I hope that your new home will be the setting for many happy times for you. May you enjoy only good health and much personal fulfillment in this lovely apartment.”

- Mary takes the next turn. “If I may add my two cents. For those of you who don’t know me, I’m Joan’s sister. I happen to know that this house-warming is the fulfillment of a dream Joan has cherished for years - to own her own house. Joan is someone who not only dreams, but who actualizes her dreams, with hard work and energy and an optimistic outlook. Joan has always inspired me with her ability keep moving forward, even when it hasn’t been easy. And it hasn’t always been easy. Whenever she falls down, Joan manages to pick herself up, brush herself off, and keep trekking, and that’s an amazing quality.(applause) My wish for you, Joan, may sound strange, but here it is: I wish that within the year you’ll meet your true life’s partner, get married, sell this condo at a big profit, and buy a house in the suburbs, which you’ll fill with rowdy kids, like you and I were!”

- Olivia, a friend, speaks next: “I want to mention how beautifully you’ve decorated this apartment with so many of your hand-made touches. Most of you may not realize it, but Joan made the silk flower arrangements on the dining room table and on the shelf in the kitchen. (exclamations of “beautiful” and “wow”) Something else you may not know is that Joan bought all her tablecloths and curtains at the local institute for the handicapped. She is such a devoted advocate of that place that she got me to buy $200 worth of stuff there that I didn’t even need! (laughter) My wish for you, Joan, is that this condo may be a quiet place where you can regenerate and regroup after your very exhausting work day. And may it often be filled with people who love you, as it is tonight.

Things to Keep In Mind When Toasting Your Host

Notice the essential elements of each set of remarks:

1. Express appreciation for the person’s unique qualities. Be specific. “You’re a great guy,” is a meaningless compliment. Focus in on the person’s own positive attributes, even if it takes a few minutes of thought to realize what they are. Words heal only if they come from the heart. Forget generic compliments.

2. Wish the person well in the specific way that applies to him or her. Again, forget generic wishes that you could have copied off a Hallmark card. For elderly parents celebrating a 50th wedding anniversary, wishes for health and long life together are most appropriate. For a 30th birthday party, wishes for the birthday boy to actualize his potential according to his own specific interests and talents is a much better wish than a vague, “Many happy returns of the day!”

3. Let the person know how much you love and admire him or her. We all need to hear words of encouragement. Such words are the greatest gift you can bring to the party.
Source: WordsCanHeal.org

Bullies and Popular Kids

Who is the most popular kid in the world? Harry Potter, of course! But it was not always so. Remember back to the beginning of the story . . .

Harry was a nerdy sort of fellow. He was small and skinny, and he wore broken glasses and clothes that didn’t fit. He was neither handsome nor athletic nor witty.

His cousin Dudley Dursley bullied him constantly. Dudley and his best friend Piers had a favorite hobby: hitting Harry. During school vacations, Dudley, with the help of his gang of friends, enjoyed his “favorite sport: Harry Hunting.” They would chase Harry, and, if they caught him, beat him up.

At school, Harry had no friends. “Everybody knew that Dudley’s gang hated that odd Harry Potter in his baggy old clothes and broken glasses, and nobody liked to disagree with Dudley’s gang.”

Of course, Dudley was a bully who was easy for us to hate. He was fat, stupid, and obnoxious. How would our feelings toward him change, however, if we did an overhaul on Dudley? Let’s trim forty pounds off him and make him handsome and athletic. Let’s raise his I.Q. by forty points and make him clever and amusing.

But he’s still picking on nerdy Harry. Would we still find him obnoxious?

All bullies are obnoxious, even if they are:

Discussion Questions for Your Family or Classroom:

1. What is the definition of a bully?
Possible answer: Someone who, either alone or with the help of others, using actions or words, hurts another person who cannot, because of physical or social reasons, defend herself or himself.

2. What can I, as an individual, do to stop the bullying in my school?
Possible answers:

3. What can my classmates do as a group to stop bullying in our school?
Possible answers:

Declare every bully a persona non grata. Everyone wants to be popular. If kids know that teasing or ostracizing a classmate will cause their own popularity to plunge, no one would be willing to pay the social price of picking on others.

A couple decades ago, the subway system in New York City was plagued by gangs of roving juvenile delinquents, who would mug anyone who rode the subway late at night. A group of kids - from the same underprivileged background as the muggers - got together and decided to protect the subway passengers. Calling themselves the “Guardian Angels,” these kids made the New York subways safe again.


While every person has a particular mission in life, all human beings have a collective mission: to build loving relationships. The holiday season, when families and co-workers get together for social gatherings, is the perfect time to build and reinforce relationships.

How unfortunate it is, then, when a holiday gathering degenerates into a gossip fest! Gossip is the very antithesis of love and good will, the motifs of the holiday season. Gossip distances people from each other. Not only are the gossipers distanced from the person they are gossiping about, but also the gossipers become distanced from each other, as their superficial camaraderie gives way to feelings of distrust. After all, who can trust a gossiper?

There is no such thing as “harmless gossip.” Sometimes passing on negative information has a very specific, constructive purpose. For example, Mary is justified in warning Jack not to go into business with Tom, because Tom’s last two business ventures went bankrupt. However, if Mary tells other people who have no intention of doing business with Tom about his financial woes, she is gossiping. Gossip always damages. It damages people’s reputations and it damages the bonds of love, respect, and brotherhood which should exist between people.

Our Holiday Party Guide

If you open your mouth to say something negative about someone else, close it for a minute and ask yourself:

Words Can Heal wishes all our subscribers a gossip-free holiday filled with joy, love, and goodwill toward everyone in your life.

An Open Letter from a Parent

Dear Words Can Heal,

Whenever I read your literature about valuing character development, I think, “Yes, I’m the type of mother who is always telling her children how kindness and friendliness are more important than algebra and chemistry.” But, a few days ago when my 9th grade daughter brought home her report card, mostly “C”s with a few “B”s, I was frankly irked. I myself was a straight “A” student. I felt like grounding my daughter, or at least giving her a good scolding.

Then, as I reinserted her report card into its envelope, I noticed something else in the envelope. I pulled it out and found a facsimile of a report card with these words superimposed over its face:


At the distribution of report cards
At the end of the semester,
I always remember
Another report card,
Almost like the one from school
. A miniature teacher gives it,
A teacher who dwells in the heart of the person.
But instead of subjects and test results,
These marks are given for the following areas:
Friendship, kindness, love, understanding,
A good heart, enthusiasm, happiness, and humility.
This other report card is important,
Even more than the school report card,
And not just twice or thrice a year,
But at every moment that passes.
Because often in life
We forget, again and again,
That to be a human being—
That’s the real test of life.

I was grateful to whomever it was in the school administration who had the brainstorm to insert that reminder to give priority to values above academic accomplishment (although the two certainly don’t have to be mutually exclusive!). Wouldn’t it be a great idea for other schools to emulate?

Of course, the onus for emphasizing values lies with us parents more than the school system. This point was driven home to me yesterday. Ronnie, my eight-year-old son, went outside with his ball to find his best friend. As he was scanning the neighborhood, he ran into a boy with Down Syndrome, Sean, who lives on the next block. Sean asked Ronnie to play ball with him.

Now, Sean is just a year younger than Ronnie, but Ronnie had never played with him. As Ronnie explained it to me, he had nothing against Sean, but he was afraid that if he was seen playing with Sean, the other neighborhood kids would make fun of him for playing with “somebody who’s not normal.”

Nevertheless, this time when Sean asked Ronnie to toss the ball to him, Ronnie overcame his anxieties about being teased, and complied. Apparently they played together for twenty minutes or so, until Sean’s mother called him in.

Ronnie came home and proudly announced to me, “I’m a real hero. I did something really good today.” Then he told me what happened.

I realized that this was a supreme educational moment. I had a chance to reinforce my son’s act of kindness the same way I would reinforce his coming home with a straight “A” report card or his winning an important contest. So instead of a low-key, “Isn’t that nice!” I clapped my hands and said, “That’s terrific! I’m so proud of you! You really did something noble and wonderful! I think you deserve a reward.” And I treated him to the biggest ice cream cone at Baskin Robbins.

On our way home from the ice cream parlor, I realized that if I want my kids to value values, I have to set the example.

Sincerely yours,
Sara R. Andrews 

Source: Brought to you by www.verticalresponse.com Visit www.WordsCanHeal.org for more ideas on how to heal with words. And spread the word! Send this message out today -- together we can make a difference!

People We Often Forget to Thank

No words are as healing as words of gratitude. Thanksgiving is the perfect time to express thanks - and not only to close relatives and friends. This Thanksgiving, why not expand your circle of gratitude to include everyone who has benefited you? Here are two suggestions:

If your oven breaks down the day before Thanksgiving, the repairman who comes to fix it will certainly charge you - and much more than you’d like to pay! But what if he and all the other oven repairmen were not available to come at all? How about saying to him, “I really appreciate your fixing my oven. I could never in a million years have fixed it. When that turkey is served tomorrow, you’ll be the real hero!”

What do words and armaments have in common?

Sometimes the smaller the “weapon,” the greater its destructive power.

Just as the splitting of an infinitesimal atom in an atomic bomb can kill thousands of people, so a single word or two can destroy a person’s self-image and have deleterious consequences for a lifetime.


“Stupid idiot!”


Such insults hurled at a person who already has doubts about his or her looks, intelligence, or popularity (and which of us doesn’t?) can have lethal effects. Children are especially vulnerable to name-calling, because their sense of identity is still in the formative stage.

If Billy’s friend—or even worse, Billy’s parent— repeatedly calls him “Stupid!” his natural reaction (unless he is a straight-A student) will be to feel, “Maybe I am stupid.” This may cause Billy to despair of academic achievement. After all, why study hard for a test when he is “stupid” and probably won’t succeed anyway? While Billy may have had the aptitude to get into and graduate from a good college, his image of himself as “stupid,” may keep him from ever trying to actualize his academic potential.

Parents and teachers who understand this dangerous chain reaction will avoid name-calling as assiduously as they avoid leaving poisonous substances within a child’s reach.

If Katie bumps into a living room shelf and causes a $200 Waterford crystal vase to fall and shatter, her mother would do well to remember that by calling Katie “Clumsy!” she may be doing more damage to her daughter than Katie did to the vase.

How should Katie’s mother respond?

Reality Shows

Unfortunately, name-calling is endemic in our society. One of the main culprits is television, which specializes in the two-word put-down.

For example, American Idol is a popular reality show among young viewers, who admire the celebrities sitting on the judging panel. When a judge insults a contestant by saying, "You're fat!" or "You're the worst singer I've ever heard in my life!" the message conveyed to the audience is: Put-downs and name-calling are cool. The viewer registers that this is "reality," which translates into "normal," which slides down the slippery slope to "acceptable."

Thousands of scientific studies over the last two decades have proven that television has a major imitative impact on its audiences, especially children. For example, a longitudinal 22-year study by Drs. Leonard Eron and Rowell Huesmann, professors of psychology at the University of Illinois, tracked violent behavior and a range of other habits and environmental stimuli in a random sampling of subjects. They discovered that the amount of television children watched at eight years old was the single most powerful predictor of violent behavior at age thirty - more than poverty, grades, a single-parent home, or even exposure to real violence. If a significant proportion of children who watch murder will end up committing murder, then how can children who watch name-calling not end up imitating this odious behavior?

Parents who are seriously committed to eliminating name-calling might try these tips:

Source: Brought to you by www.verticalresponse.com Visit www.WordsCanHeal.org for more ideas on how to heal with words. And spread the word! Send this message out today -- together we can make a difference!

“Watching Your Words at the Water Cooler” – Part II

In the last issue, we focused on how people can be hurt by fellow workers who gossip about them. In this issue, we’ll focus on two other parties who are hurt by gossip: the person speaking and the person listening.

Quote of the Week:

“A pick-pocket looks at a saint, and sees only his pockets.”

Water Cooler Super Stars

People gossip and joke about others because of the apparent status they gain by being “the one in the know” or the center of attention at the water cooler. They feel that they are bonded with their listeners in a clique of whispers and laughter.

In truth, both the status and the bond are illusory. The “water cooler star” may be witty and incisive, but no one will credit him/her with integrity and kindness, which are more crucial traits in any but the most superficial relationship. No one trusts a gossip, because all know that they could be the next victim. Thus, a gossip will find him/herself with many listeners but few real friends.

Management, too, may come to question the integrity of employees who are known to talk too much and repeat unverified information. In addition, management’s goal of productivity is not realized by long gossip sessions around the water cooler.

On a deeper level, people who gossip damage themselves because they train themselves to focus on the negative: other people’s foibles, lacks, and wrong behavior. Even if everything they say is true, it can never be more than part of the picture.

Imagine someone going to Florence and commenting only on the litter he saw in the street. Obviously, he would be the loser.

“Late Nate” may devote every weekend to the local homeless shelter. Why focus on his tardiness instead of his generosity? “Sour Sandra” may not be sociable, but her industrious enterprising may earn the company millions, which may translate into raises for all the people who deride her during coffee break.

People who focus on the negative - both the people gossiping and the people listening - reinforce their tendency to be critical, carping, and unappreciative. While they may damage their victim’s future in the company, they certainly damage their own future, as they become more and more the carping, fault-finding, critical person everybody wants to avoid.

WCH’s grab bag of positive comments:

Next time someone’s name comes up at the water cooler, find something positive to say about him or her. It will change the atmosphere in the office, and, more importantly, it will change you.

“Watching Your Words at the Water Cooler” – Part I

Good people gossip because they don’t realize the harm their words can do. People who would never steal, stab a friend in the back, nor undermine another’s career, will repeat rumors and innuendos around the water cooler because they think that it’s innocent banter, harmless chitchat.

In fact, gossip has the lethal power of a terrorist’s bullets; gossip can ruin lives, and the person who “shoots” words of gossip has no idea how far they will travel nor where they will land. If we treated our speech with as much care as we would treat a loaded gun, so much damage would be avoided.

For example, a joke about how much Eve loves to chat with her sister in Hawaii on the office phone may not be amusing when it reaches the ears of the manager in charge of keeping overhead low.

Moreover, statements tend to get distorted as they get repeated (a la “telephone”). An off-hand remark about how Ken pilfers paper clips and envelopes from the company, by the time it reaches the boss, may metamorphose into “Ken embezzles from the company.”

WCH received the following letter from a woman we’ll call Jennifer. As you read it, pay careful attention to whom the real culprit was who sabotaged Jennifer’s career.

The Impact of Gossip on My Career

I was 23 and two years out of college and up for a promotion at work. On a firm "golf day" one of the partners – “X” – made several very public passes at me. I thought I handled the humiliation fairly graciously.

The next week in the hall several men made passing comments – comments alluding to my complicity with those advances. That same week my expected promotion was rejected.

I appealed to the managing partner and he simply told me a story of how “X” had created a similar situation in another city and the firm had transferred him to mine. I was told that I was more expendable than “X.” It was all because of the rumors that I had slept with this man! The firm wanted to be sure I wasn't sleeping my way to the top. No one bothered to ask me to confirm or deny the gossip. My salary and my career track both suffered. Though several female partners rallied around me, I left the firm in less than a year.

“X” rose to managing partner and still heads the firm 20 years later. He makes generous donations to non-profits with which I am associated, though we have never spoken since. A few words changed my entire post collegiate plan.

A Loaded Gun...

If you analyze this true story carefully, you’ll see that while “X” is the miscreant guilty of sexual harassment, Jennifer’s career was not derailed by “X” but rather by the gossip her fellow employees spoke about her and “X.”

· “It was all because of the rumors...”

· “A few words changed my entire post collegiate plan.”

What is so sad about this story — and millions like it — is that the people who spoke the gossip which sabotaged Jennifer’s promotion were probably good, decent people who liked Jennifer and meant her no harm.

Next time you’re chatting at work, and about to repeat a negative comment or joke about a fellow employee, STOP AND REMEMBER THAT YOU’RE HANDLING A LOADED GUN.

Learning Life Skills

Children spend most of their waking hours, as well as most of their energy and attention, on learning subjects such as math, science, English, history, and geography. They study so that they will get good grades so that they will get into a good college so that they will get a degree so that they will get a good job so that they will earn a livelihood . . . so that they will have a happy life.

It’s possible, however, for a person to get straight A’s, get admitted to a top college, land a job with a prestigious corporation, bring home a 6-figure salary . . . and be miserable. How? If one’s fellow employees don’t trust him, his wife divorces him, and his children hate him, he may have succeeded in his career, but failed in life. A person who lacks healthy, loving relationships will not be happy.

Learning how to build healthy, loving relationships is just as important as learning math and English. One doesn’t acquire “people skills” automatically; they must be learned and practiced, just as one must learn figure skating and pole vaulting. Many students will go on to careers where they will never have occasion to use the algebra they learned, but all students will use their people skills in every aspect of their lives—at work and at home.

Behavior in the playground is a sobering predictor of behavior in the workplace. Learning to relate harmoniously to others will stand one in good stead with his/her employer, fellow workers, employees, neighbors, friends, spouse, and children. Conversely, a boy who bullies classmates will grow up to be an employer who bullies his employees, and his employees will despise him, which will significantly reduce their productivity. A girl who gossips about her classmates will grow up to be a worker who gossips about her associates, and they will distrust her, which will impair the atmosphere in the workplace. A boy who teases his siblings and friends will grow up to be a father who teases his children, and they will resent him. A girl who mercilessly shuns a classmate will grow up to be a woman who’s not on speaking terms with her neighbors.

Nothing one learns during one’s school years is more important than learning to relate harmoniously with others.

Lessons to Learn Early On

Here is a sample of four life skills worth learning early in life:

Empathy. Before you pick on, tease, or shun a classmate, ask yourself: How would I feel if this were being done to me? If the answer is, "terrible," stop yourself. Empathy is the glue that binds people together in loving, lasting relationships. If you don’t foster this quality, no matter how witty and popular you might be, your adult relationships will be superficial and short-lived.

Kindness. It feels good to do good—at any age. Doing a favor for siblings or friends, even just giving them a kind word when they’re down, will make you feel good about yourself. Late at night, in the privacy of your own room, when the computer is turned off, you’ll feel a glow of satisfaction and self-worth.

Co-operation. A highly competitive youngster can become a back-biting adult, the dread of his company. Cultivate the consciousness that you and your classmates are on the same team. Cheer on someone else's success; it doesn’t diminish your achievements at all. Later in life, when you’re being considered for a raise or a promotion, one of the qualities most important to your personnel manager will be your prowess in "teamwork."

Conflict resolution. Two three-year-olds who want to play with the same toy will end up hitting and biting each other. A husband and wife who disagree on a destination for their long-awaited vacation better have developed skills in conflict resolution. Life is full of conflict, but it need not turn into strife. Learning to remain calm, listen to the other party, focus on solutions, and compromise are skills crucial to any harmonious marriage. The time to learn such skills is during youth, not the week before the wedding!

Source: Visit www.WordsCanHeal.org for more ideas on how to heal with words. And spread the word! Send this message out today -- together we can make a difference!

Family Vacations

Quote of the Week


Family vacations can absorb months of our lives: Months before planning them, and months afterwards paying for them. What a shame, therefore, when everyone’s enjoyment is marred by cross words! Whether it is parents yelling at their children, kids fighting with each other, kids complaining about their parents, or couples criticizing each other, negative words can ruin that longed-for vacation.

WCH’s “Easy-To-Pack Travel Tips”:

1. Leave criticism and complaining behind. For sure, something somewhere will go wrong. Your flight may be delayed, your baggage lost, your passport stolen, or you may get lost looking for a restaurant, with cranky, hungry kids in tow. When you encounter such mini-disasters, resist the urge to blame each other. Instead, focus your energy on finding a solution.

2. When people, even people who love each other, spend all day together for days on end, they are bound to get on each other’s nerves. Just as you protect yourself from the sun’s harmful rays with an ample layer of sunscreen, protect yourself from the “grouchies” by resolving to refrain from negative words. Instead, take a walk by yourself or a hot bath.

3. Close quarters require an extra dose of tolerance. When the whole family finds itself sharing two hotel rooms or an RV, others’ personal habits may irritate you: this one’s sloppiness, that one’s loudness, this one’s annoying propensity to tune out, that one’s compulsion to talk about souvenirs. Try this three-step remedy: Forgive, let go, and remember how much you love ________.

4. Rare is the children’s fight that cannot be quelled by a good distraction. And vacations abound in distractions. Pack a variety of car/plane games, point out the scenery, or ask each child: “What did you like best about . . . ?”

5. Counteract negativity by cultivating the trait of appreciation. After every activity, talk about everything interesting or fun there. When someone starts to complain, make a game of “Who can list the most animals we saw in the safari?” or “Who can remember every interesting building we saw in Paris?”

6. Negative words are like poison ivy, mosquitoes, and sunburn; they can ruin your whole vacation. Before you leave the house, agree to ban:

What will you talk about? How about the Grand Canyon?

7. Play the “thank you game”: At the end of every day — or every activity – take turns thanking every member of the family. For example:

“Thanks, Mom, for planning this part of the trip.”

“Thanks, Dad, for buying dinner for us.”

“Thanks, Jimmy, for running back to the car to get the forgotten canteens.”

“Thanks, Susie, for being a barrel of fun.”

Everyone feels good when thanked. The most important thing to take with you on your vacation is appreciative words.

Have a great vacation!

The Roots of Gossip-Part 2

Quote of the Week

If you want to feel significant, do something significant.– Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller

The Cure for Gossip

In the last issue, we identified the cause of gossip as the innate human desire to feel important. The antidote to gossip is to satisfy that urge to feel important by doing something important.

Life is full of opportunities to impact the world positively through deeds and words. No matter what your age or life situation, every one of you has the power to make the world a better place.

At the age of seventy-five, the widowed Mrs. Welthy Fisher started the “Each One Teach One” literacy program in India. Millions of Indians learned to read thanks to her. At the age of eleven, Cathy Weinert started an organization which distributes teddy bears to children suffering from cancer.

But one does not have to start a national organization to do something significant. Thanks to the “ripple effect,” every seemingly small good deed you do or kind word you say inspires others to do likewise, so that thousands of miles away and years later, a kind word or gesture you initiated may still be having an effect.

The following letter received by WCH is a good example of the “ripple effect.” The kind words spoken by a doctor to his patient inspired her first to speak kindly to the hospital staff, then to call the driver who had injured her, and finally, some three years later, to inspire her own son by the example of her self-transformation.  

Kind Words Heal

Four years ago, I was run down by a minivan going 25 mph. Amazingly, I wasn't dead or brain-damaged, but I was in Mt. Zion Hospital in San Francisco for the next 6 weeks. 

The first good thing that happened was that my virtually destroyed right elbow was expertly reassembled by a wonderful orthopedist who stopped by nearly every day to check on my progress. His kind ways and words of encouragement helped me through the agony of my initial injuries and then many months of pain and physical therapy on the elbow. Those words continue to heal me to this day.

The second good thing was that I was bed-bound for weeks with multiple pelvic fractures. This gave me time to get acquainted with the staff who had to do virtually everything for me. This gave me a lot of time to think and to realize that kindness like that of my doctor was something they needed, too. It was no more than a few words of Russian to the woman who swept the floors, a few of Tagalog to several of the aides who were from the Philippines, and finding out bit-by-bit who they were as people.

The next good thing that happened was that, through the kindness of the hospital staff (especially my orthopedist), the great weight of anger I had carried all my life from the cruelty of my parents just fell away.

But to me, the best thing that happened was that after about six months, I realized I should phone the driver of that minivan and tell him I was all right, that I did not feel any anger toward him and that I knew he had made the same sort of dumb mistake many of us make when we get behind the wheel and are in a hurry. He seemed very relieved and said his family had been telling him his guilt over the accident was really eating him up. I told him that so many good things had happened to me because of that accident that he should not beat himself up about it.

As a postscript, one of my children has recently gone through a terrible trauma. I couldn't do much for him, because he lives far away, but I was able to talk with him by phone. He told me eventually that I had been a negative, angry, complainer in the past (which is true) but that the changes in my personality and my understanding and encouragement are what helped him get through his problems and turn his life around.

I feel so fortunate to have received the blessing of kind words from others, and even more fortunate that these have given me the realization of the importance of seeking opportunities to speak kindly to others.

Thank you for Words Can Heal. I believe there is no limit to the good your organization can do. Through being conscious of the impact of every word that comes out of our mouths, and trying to make all of those words ones of healing, we can change the world.

Words That Have Lasting Impact...

The most immediate effect of our kind words and actions is to bolster our sense of our own worth. Whereas gossip confers a spurious and transitory ego boost, kind words and actions make us feel significant in ways that can last a lifetime, as the following story shows:

I have been very blessed in my life, with a wonderful husband, children, and career. Whenever I ask myself, “What did I ever do to deserve such blessing?” I come up with only one truly noble, selfless action which I performed when I was a girl of eleven or twelve.

I was in day camp one summer. A girl in my bunk named Janet spoke with a lisp. The popular kids (of whom I was not one) used to make fun of Janet, imitating the way she spoke. Janet had no friends, including me, but my mother had always taught me, “There but for the grace of God go I.” So I thought it was cruel and horrible for these kids to be making fun of someone because of a speech impediment. Nevertheless, I didn’t want to get on the bad side of the “in crowd,” so I stayed out of it. 

One day, however, my sense of fairness got indignant. The “in crowd” was imitating Janet to her face. I walked right between Janet and these kids and gave them a tongue-lashing, telling them they were mean and heartless and missing the point if they thought they were any better than Janet just because they didn’t have a lisp. Then I took Janet’s hand and defiantly walked off

with her.  

The results of my valiant words were:

1. They left Janet alone for the rest of the summer.
2. I lost any chance I had of becoming part of the in crowd.
3. I had a sense of having done something truly noble and selfless, which, four decades later, remains with me to this day.  

Whenever you want to feel significant, instead of gossiping, do something significant. Its effect – on others and on yourself –will go further than you can imagine.

The Roots of Gossip-Part 1

Quote of the Week

It is human nature to take delight in exciting admiration. . . . It is what makes gossips turn out in rain and storm to be the first to tell a startling bit of news.--Mark Twain in The Innocents Abroad

The Allure of Gossip

Why is a juicy tidbit of gossip more delicious than a hot fudge sundae? Why is it more tempting to pass on derogatory information than to break your diet?

The temptation to gossip is rooted in the very human desire to feel important. Gossip feeds the ego in three ways:

1. While the gossiper is speaking, s/he is the center of attention.
2. To possess information which no one else is privy to elevates the gossiper to the coveted status of being "in the know."
3. By putting someone else down, the gossiper assumes a superior status. The implication in slandering another person is that "I would never do/wear/say such a thing."

Gossip is a cheap ego boost which tantalizes people of all ages and both genders. School-age girls, however, for whom prestige and popularity are central, are especially prone to use gossip as a form of social manipulation. Words Can Heal has received many versions of the following letter:

Gossip in Schools

My 12 year old girl is going through harassment at school. She didn't do anything to deserve this. She was in a neighborhood snowball fight, November 2001, and nailed the popular girl. (She didn't mean to hurt anyone... it was a snowball fight for crying out loud.) From thence forward, it has exacerbated into a constant joke on the bus and in school.

All the middle girls in-between are afraid of the popular girl. They have admitted to my daughter that they are afraid of Steph (the so-called popular girl) who is very moody....

My daughter is clinically disabled... She has OCD and an anxiety disorder. BUT she was a straight "A" student prior to this situation.

I am a single Mom who is successful, but very worn out. They have robbed my child of her education and safety and our civil rights. "They" is the child initiating all this gossip and harassment, and her toxic mother and the school system.

My daughter is very depressed, and has a hard time going to school on the bus, and I have to drive her in the morning to school. She freaks out now about going to school and this has escalated her anxiety disorder. She has tried and tried, but the Gossip continues, no matter what she does.

This story is so much longer than I have told you, but I would love to see Gossip Killed and proven to be against the law, honestly! Your foundation should be spread, supported and incorporated as part of our children's educational curriculum and I will do anything to help you if I can.

I am so sick of the abusive torment caused by words.

A Different Kind of Aggression

A recent New York Times Magazine article, "Girls Just Want to be Mean," (Feb. 24) focused on the "relational aggression" prevalent among middle school and high school girls, who use cliques, gossip, and ostracism to promote their own social standing:

A team of researchers led by a Finnish professor named Kaj Bjorkqvist started interviewing 11- and 12-year-old girls about their behavior toward one another. The team's conclusion was that girls were, in fact, just as aggressive as boys, though in a different way. They were not as likely to engage in physical fights, for example, but their superior social intelligence enabled them to wage complicated battles with other girls aimed at damaging relationships or reputations - leaving nasty messages by cellphone or spreading scurrilous rumors by e-mail, making friends with one girl as revenge against another, gossiping about someone just loudly enough to be overheard.

While people often regard gossip as "innocent," it always has a hidden agenda: To boost one’s own social standing by denigrating others.

Next issue: "The Roots of Gossip, Part 2 - What We Can Do About It"

Florence Henderson’s Mother’s Day Tips

Florence Henderson, America's favorite TV mom Carol Brady, tells how to enrich your relationship with your mother through words.

1. Use words. Often we take for granted that Mom knows how we feel. Even if she does, she still likes to hear words such as, “I love you” and “Thank You.”

2. Use specific words. Better than, “I love you” is “I love you for the time when I was twelve-years-old and, even though you were exhausted, you drove me and my friends all the way into the city to see Star Wars.”

3. Use written words. It’s easier to speak than to take the trouble to write, but spoken words cannot be kept in a drawer, folded inside a handkerchief, for decades. [And, at the risk of dating myself, I might add that your handwriting is more precious to your mother than an e-mail.]

4. Use words that express gratitude. There are not enough words in the dictionary to cover all Mom has done for you, starting with changing your diapers and nursing you when you were sick. Just because you don’t remember, doesn’t mean she doesn’t.

5. Forgive your mother—in your heart and out loud. No one’s perfect, and your mother surely made mistakes, maybe even big ones. Forgive her while you have the chance. The day will come when you don’t.

Mother’s Day is a perfect opportunity to use words to heal. Rare is the adult who doesn’t have some sore spots in his or her relationship with Mom: disappointments, disagreements, hurt feelings, miscommunications or too little communication, etc. While getting to the root of the problem may take more time, energy, and psychologists’ fees than you care to spend, sometimes a relationship can be healed today, without probing into root causes, by using loving, grateful words.

The WCH subscriber whose letter follows had an enormous rift with her mother. Without either of them changing their position vis-a-vis lifestyle, politics, or values, they managed to span the rift with a bridge of healing words.

The Little, Loving Words That Healed Our Relationship

About 12 years ago, my relationship with my mother was strained. My life choices were not what she wanted for me. I had moved far away from her, not only in terms of place, but also in terms of lifestyle, values, and politics. My mother perceived my new views as a rejection of her and her lifestyle. When I married someone she never would have chosen for me, she felt that the distance between us had become permanent.

Things came to a crisis when my mother called at a time when it was inappropriate for us to speak with her. It had to do with our life choices and we intended no criticism of her. My husband tried very delicately, in a few words, to explain that at that time we could not speak with her on the phone, but he could not prolong the conversation, and my mother took great offense. In a strongly-worded letter, she explained how she felt we were judging her and her lifestyle. She was very hurt.

I was extremely distressed and saddened by the incident, especially because all three of the players had tried to act with their understanding of respect for the other person. A good friend suggested that I try to write to my mother. (This was many years before e-mail became accessible in private homes.) He said that I should write to her once a week, and "share my life" with her. Tell her all the little details. And at some point in the letter I should give her my gratitude for something. It could be something small, like a gift. It could be something large, like a life lesson. As long as I would say "thank you" to my mother for something in every letter, and write once a week. As he put it, parents NEVER get enough gratitude.

Well, I did that. For almost a year, I wrote almost every week. I cannot tell you what a change it wrought! The words in my letters healed our relationship in a big way.

My mother today is much more comfortable with my choices, even if she still disagrees with me. She and I speak on the phone every week (much cheaper these days!). We share much, we appreciate each other, and we are able to communicate without defensiveness and without hurt. We never worked out the big issues. We didn’t have to. The little, loving words healed our relationship.

This Mother’s Day, why not slip into your Mother’s Day card a hand-written letter, filled with loving, grateful words?

Encouraging Words

A twenty-four-year-old widow whose husband had recently been killed in an automobile accident, leaving her with three small children, was asked which words of consolation helped her most and which helped her least. She replied that the words which helped her least were blithe statements of nickel-and-dime philosophy. The words which helped her the most were from a friend who said: “You have the strength to get through this.”

Encouraging words are so simple to say, but they can change the course of a person’s life.

Many successful people reminiscence about a teacher in elementary or high school who said to them: “You could really become great if you try.”

Many successful athletes remember a coach who said to them: “You have what it takes to be a champion.”

Many successful musicians, artists, and actors attribute their proficiency to a teacher or mentor who said to them: “You have remarkable talent.”

A classic study showed that the elementary school children who get the highest grades are not those with the highest IQ, but rather those with the highest self-esteem. And our self-esteem, as we all know, derives in large measure from at least one person who esteemed us and let us know it.

How to Give the Gift of Encouraging Words

Did you ever fantasize that if you had a million dollars, one day you would just walk down the street handing out dollar bills to everyone you passed? Well, you have a million encouraging words. Pass them out generously. Today. They won’t run out.

Your Best Asset

Quote of the Week

Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless. --Mother Teresa

Six reasons why kind, encouraging words are your best asset:

1. The power to speak healing words is available to you at all times, in all places, under all circumstances. Healing words are lighter than a laptop, more portable than a credit card. They can never be lost, stolen, or left at home.

2. Healing words cost you nothing. No matter how financially strapped you are, you can give lavishly with encouraging words.

3. Speaking kind words is a win-win situation. Both the speaker and the one spoken to walk away feeling great.

4. Healing words can calm better than a tranquilizer, with no adverse side effects. However, they are habit forming (thank goodness!)

5. Encouraging words are a non-depletable resource. No matter how many you use, you always have an unlimited supply.

6. Encouraging words yield high returns. You spend a small amount of energy and time, and the effect on the person spoken to can last for years — or even change a life.

The following letter from a WCH subscriber powerfully illustrates the above points:

All She Had to Give Were Her Words

My family has been going through hard times recently. I have been mildly depressed since my mother died five months ago. Last week my husband was laid off from his job. My fourteen-year-old daughter is being shunned by her best friend, for no reason she can fathom. And my nine-year-old son is feeling the effect of everyone else’s sad mood.

After reading your last WCH newsletter, which said that if you want to feel significant, do something significant, I decided to put your idea into action. Our family decided to go visit patients in the hospital, and to hand out cookies and drinks to them.

After dinner last Thursday, which was an unseasonably hot day, we walked to a local hospital, went up to the Orthopedic Department, and, painting smiles on our faces, set about cheering up the patients.

When we entered the last ward, we saw a young woman lying in one of the beds. Her face was badly burned and both her arms and one leg were in casts. Two visitors, apparently her parents, sat beside her.

We summoned up smiles and tried to greet her warmly. The woman, whose name was Esther, broke into a wide smile. "How wonderful that you’ve come to visit!" she exclaimed. "You’re making me so happy by your visit!"

"We are?" I thought.

It turned out that Esther had been in an automobile accident just that day. A driver had run a stop sign and plowed right into her car. She was more seriously hurt than he was, because somehow her engine had caught fire.

"And you came all this way with your children!" Esther effused, changing the subject from her to us. "How long did it take you to get here?"

"Twenty-five minutes," I answered simply, wishing we were the heroes she apparently thought we were.

"You walked twenty-five minutes in this heat just to visit patients in the hospital! You don’t know how happy you’re making me!"

"Well," I thought, looking at our baskets of drinks and cookies, "Maybe we are making a difference." My heart, which had felt like a wilted plant, started to come back to life.

"What are your names?" Esther asked my two children. When they answered her, she continued to ask: their ages, which schools they go to, which high school my daughter will go to next year. When my daughter answered with the name of a distant school which I’m sure Esther had never heard of, she enthused, "That’s an excellent school!" I could see from my children’s faces that the more Esther focused her attention on them, the more they felt important and proud of their good deed.

We offered Esther cookies and drinks. All she would take was a cup of spring water, which my daughter had to hold for her, because of her injured and burnt hands. Esther said that it was a miracle that she was alive. Then she quickly, effortlessly, turned the conversation back to our family, as if we the visitors were much more important than she the suffering patient. She kept reiterating how much our visit meant to her, how much it made her happy.

We all walked out of Esther’s room feeling better than we had in ages. We felt good about ourselves—we had done something important and ontributive; we had made a real difference. Our depression metamorphosed into a quiet joy.

Only an hour later did it hit me: Every word that came out of Esther’s mouth had been intended to make us feel good. This 24-year-old woman who had just been injured in a serious accident had healed us with her words. Clearly, the use of words to encourage and uplift was a skill Esther had mastered throughout her young life. Lying there in her hospital bed six hours after a catastrophic crash, wounded in her face, arms, and leg, Esther had nothing to give us but her words. Yet her words were more valuable than any gift imaginable.

I’ve read your Words Can Heal handbook, and I regularly read your newsletter. But I never really understood the power of words to heal until I saw Esther in action.

Words and Bosses

Although few of us define ourselves as "bosses," most of us at least sometimes are in the position of telling other people what to do. We may be supervisors in the workplace, employers of domestic help, teachers, parents, or experienced workers showing the ropes to new employees. When we think of the power "the boss" wields, we may not realize that the boss’s greatest power is the way he or she uses words. By one’s choice of words, a "boss" can build up or tear down another human being.

Words that heal are good for the boss, for the employee, and for the morale of the whole workplace. So isn’t it worth paying as careful attention to the way we speak as to the way we dress?

Quote of The Week

“Speaking nicely to your workers promotes positive energy, which promotes productivity, which promotes profits, which may end up . . . promoting you!"


Linda was married for 33 years to a man who verbally abused her. "I was so torn down," she wrote in her letter to WCH, "that I never thought I could come back up again." Four years ago, Linda, aged 51, separated from her husband, moved to a different state, and left her nursing career for a job as an Assistant Property Manager of a 144-unit apartment building.

Her new boss was a young man named David. "My boss has given me more than my husband ever did in 33 years of marriage," wrote Linda. "He has given me back my self esteem. And how? By always saying the right words, words that heal. I learned from David that it is all right to make mistakes, because no one will yell at me or call me names or degrade me in any way. Every day is a healing process for me. I am so grateful I can get up and go to a job that I love, where no one will put me down. I will never be able to thank my boss enough."

Amelia Bedilia's Boss

Employees who feel good about themselves are most likely to produce good work, as we see from the following letter, received from a WCH member who does not consider herself a boss, but nevertheless is one.

I am a potter who works in a studio adjacent to my house. I hired a woman named Nan to cook for my family and do light housekeeping. Nan reminds me of “Amelia Bedelia.” She is a very nice person who cooks really well, but makes a lot of careless mistakes, which really grate on my perfectionist nature.

Last week I was under pressure for a deadline. I bought a pound of mushrooms and told Nan, somewhat tensely, to make a big pot of mushroom soup, quadrupling the recipe. When the soup was all finished, I walked into the kitchen and found most of the mushrooms sitting there in their boxes. “What’s this?” I shrieked, horrified.

"Well," Nan replied nervously, "they’re left over. The recipe only called for a quarter of a cup."

"A quarter of a pound," I corrected her, trying to control myself from really tearing into her.

Later that day I thought about it, and realized that I am perpetuating a cycle of exactly the kind of behavior I don’t want. My terse, critical attitude makes Nan feel nervous and flustered, which causes her to make more mistakes.

So the next day when Nan came in apologizing profusely about the mushrooms, I gave her a warm smile and told her, "Don’t worry about it. Everybody makes mistakes." (And I tried to remember that that includes me.) I complimented her cooking and told her that the family had really enjoyed the meal she made. Then I spent a couple minutes inquiring earnestly about her apartment problems. The result? Nan was relaxed and happy, and she made no mistakes that day. It was a win-win situation.

A Letter from Nepal

The boss’s power to use words to change those "under him" is superseded only by the boss’s power to change himself. The following letter was received by a Words Can Heal member in Nepal:

I run a small export company -- mainly handmade Tibetan carpets. I am by nature impulsive and must get things done my way. In the process, I would often end up using harsh words when things went wrong. This not only hurt the feelings of my employees, but also hurt my own inner conscience. For a long time, I have been thinking I must change. But this remained only a thought.

Some time back I saw a TV program on Words Can Heal. It immediately caught my attention. I surfed the Internet and located your website. Reading the handbook gave me the necessary encouragement to change my self. I decided that from then onwards instead of saying to a worker who had made a mistake: “Is this what I told you to do? Don’t you get paid?” I would use words like: “Good attempt. We will do it better next time.”

My employees noticed the change in my language and could not understand what had happened. I could not wait to tell them, “I am a changed man. I am a member of Words Can Heal. I have decided to speak with words that heal.”

I am happy to let you know that I am seeing very positive results as a result of my using healing words. My employees are happier, but I am the happiest one.

Tips for Bosses

1. Recognize that the person you are directing (employee, coworker, student, child) is a human being.

2. Recognize that you have the power to build up or destroy this person with your words.

3. Remember that the more you make others feel good, the better the work they will produce.

4. Particularly during an economic decline, when people are nervous about lay-offs, it’s vital to speak kindly to your colleagues. This builds teamwork and positive energy, which maximizes overall performance, which increases productivity, which will ultimately increase the chances of you keeping your job.

Groups and Gossip

Quote of the Week

The person who drills a hole under his/her own seat in the boat will end up drowning everyone on board.

Gossip is to groups what termites are to a house. The groups which need the most support right now - from within and without - are the U.S. military and their families. However, as the letter below shows, even such a worthy group as spouses of deployed soldiers can be devastated by gossip, to the detriment of everyone involved.

We'd love to hear from you if you have an anecdote about how Words Can Heal is transforming/enhancing your life and/or if you have developed any innovations in implementing our ideals. Send your account (brief and relevant, please) to story@wordscanheal.org. Communicating your own real-life experiences can help us help all of you to communicate better. That's real teamwork!

Gossip in Groups

Some groups (such as family, neighborhood, apartment building) we belong to fortuitously. All other groups we join for a purpose. The purpose of a business is to earn money; the purpose of a political group is to advance a particular political agenda; the purpose of a social club is to provide camaraderie and activities of common interest.

Whatever the purpose, when gossip infects a group, it not only hurts the individuals involved (those speaking, those listening, and those gossiped about), but also sabotages the very purpose of the group.

To get some idea of the damage gossip can do to a company, consider this: If, in a company of 200 employees, each employee spent one hour a day trading gossip (under the guise of "shooting the breeze" or "networking"), the company would lose approximately $160,000 a month in lost productivity. (See WCH Workplace Kit-Fact Sheet: http://r.vresp.com/?WordsCanHeal.org/bfad4f7bae

The damage gossip inflicts, however, goes much deeper than dollars and cents. All groups function on a basis of mutual trust. Gossip undermines trust as surely as termites eat away at the structure of a house-invisibly, insidiously, and irreparably. When a group which should be working as a team is riddled with gossip, the purpose of the team-be it profit, a worthy cause, or mutual support-suffers.

The following letter that WCH received a few months after September 11, is particularly tragic because just when this group should have been giving vital support to a particularly vulnerable population-women whose husbands are serving in the U.S. Army--gossip exploded the group as surely as a terrorist bomb.

Gossip Undermines a Group...

My name is Lynn. I am a military spouse living in upstate New York. I lead a Ladies Luncheon Group to support spouses of deployed soldiers. These are very trying times for military wives. Many are given only hours to say goodbye before their husbands are whisked off to "Operation Enduring Freedom." The 10th Mountain Division here at Ft. Drum has many families not knowing where family members are or when they might return from overseas. The stress can be overwhelming. For this reason I have invited women to come together, share stories, plan family activities, and support one another.

But, just before the holidays, the group went sour. Gossip and misunderstandings caused hard feelings. Our mission and focus were lost. Some women stopped coming and others alienated the women who did attend. Needless to say, I was deeply saddened.

I have been searching for a way to convince these very lonely and afraid ladies that we need one another and we should come together. I am hoping that your organization is the answer. I will introduce your thoughts and ideals to the group. I am hoping that each of them will see the power of the spoken word and take your pledge. I wholly believe that our words can change the world. I hope to bring new hope to our group. God Bless America.

What Groups Can Do:

1. Introduce the ideals of Words Can Heal in your office, club, social action movement, etc. Get a few copies of the handbook (available from www.amazon.com) and pass them around.

2. Post reminder signs around your office or meeting place: “Changing your words can transform your life.” “Who gossips to you will gossip of you.” “Let’s replace words that hurt with words that heal.”

3. Introduce one hour a week as a gossip-free zone in the workplace cafeteria or wherever your group meets. Have the group choose a good-natured way of reminding those who slip up, just as you would politely remind someone who lights up a cigarette in a no-smoking zone. (Eg. flash a no-gossip version of the no-smoking sign or call out a code word like “teamwork.”)

4. Use teamwork methods to devise a Words Can Heal program which will work for your group. Always start small (e.g. no gossip for one hour a week) and work your way up gradually. Reward success (e.g. lunch out at a nice restaurant at the company’s expense).

5. Remember: A group which functions without gossip is more apt to accomplish its purpose.

Source: Brought to you by www.verticalresponse.com Visit www.WordsCanHeal.org for more ideas on how to heal with words. And spread the word! Send this message out today -- together we can make a difference!

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