When we focus on bringing purpose to our speech, we bring healing and meaning to our relationships, our communities, and the world.
If you have been reading my work for a while, you know how important words are to me. How we speak to people — our tone and the words we choose — leave our lips and go out into the world, affecting one or thousands of people. It is more important than ever to be aware of what we choose to say and the purpose of using them.
With so many words coming at us twenty-four hours a day through social media and the non-stop news cycle, it can feel like our terms have lost their meaning altogether. Somehow, we’ve almost become unconscious of the profound effect words have — the power to hurt, destroy, and repair and heal.
We are learning, reconnecting, and growing, and will help you become less reactive, more aware and integrated, and less alienated. Through our use of words, we reveal our hearts to ourselves and others, and by learning to speak consciously with purpose, we can pause and truly listen amid the noise of our frantic modern world.
Speaking with purpose and not impulse means entering deeply into the root causes and motivations that cause us to wield our words in impulsive, hurtful, and even destructive ways. It is the practice of bringing kinder and more conscious intention not only to how we interact with others but also to ourselves. Many of us do our best to speak meaningfully to others, but we fail to show this kindness and intentionality to ourselves, instead of speaking critical and reactive words. Speaking with purpose means diving into our beings, locating the harsh words that reside there, and approaching them with a spirit of curiosity and compassion. It is about speaking with a desire to bring meaning to our speech and serve others with our words.
We speak without purpose because we are immersed in a culture that encourages us to speak loudly, seeks more, brand our lives, and brandish our opinions like weapons. We live in a social media era that values speed, competition, and instant gratification. In the context of these cultural values, we require real intentionality to become human beings who speak meaningful words.
There are also personal reasons for why we speak from impulse. For example, a family can hold enormous influence over how we talk to others and ourselves. If we were raised in an environment where family members spoke over one another, we might struggle with conscious listening. If we were encouraged to remain silent, we might struggle with making our purpose known. Our witness to the behaviors around words in our childhood environments can shape how we speak to ourselves and others throughout our lives.
Other causes can include insecurity, unresolved emotions, and unconsciousness. Uncertainty can make us speak critically to ourselves, alienating us from purpose. When we feel insecure, we might use words to dominate others in an attempt to appear smart or powerful. This insecurity can also manifest as shouting, interrupting, or neediness to turn conversations toward ourselves.
When we carry unresolved emotions, we may move quickly into anger, self-pity, contempt, or deflection. This response leads to acting and speaking impulsively. Strong, unconscious emotions activate self-protective stress hormones, which may drive us to react in the moment’s heat. We lose perspective and distance ourselves from our innermost selves. When we look back on our behavior, we may feel shame, which can lead to negative self-talk. Unresolved emotions have the power to create a cycle of impulsive, harmful speech.
Unconsciousness is the umbrella over so many of the reasons we speak without purpose. We may think of unconsciousness as another word for impulsivity. Whether we have a habit of interrupting or live with a destructive inner critic, unconsciousness is present. We don’t realize what’s happening, and when we live in this state of unawareness, we have little hope to find purpose. It is a valuable and necessary challenge to step back and observe ourselves and to direct our energy toward listening to and serving others meaningfully.
It is essential to speak with purpose because words have power. The great poet Maya Angelou said, “Words are things.” If words are indeed things, then they are things that can be used for better or worse. Names can be used as weapons, or they can be used as medicines. Words can harm and heal. It is our choice how we use them. Terms do not control us. We are in the driver’s seat. It may seem easy to dismiss the profound power of words with tired phrases like, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” But words do hurt. This phrase came from a time when, as a society, we shunned vulnerability. In many ways, we still do this. However, we are collectively beginning to acknowledge the need for vulnerability in healing and the enormous role verbal abuse plays in causing childhood trauma and injury in relationships. Words have the power to affirm us, to turn us toward love, compassion, and creativity. We can develop the tools to regularly harness the power of words for growth and good in our lives and the lives of others.
The first step toward speaking with purpose is to start developing consciousness around our language and listening. It is effortless to move through life without ever pausing to notice the quality of our words and thoughts, especially when our egos hold onto fixed ideas of who we are — i.e., someone who never interrupts or utters an unkind word. Often, we are those who cling to such ideas who find, once we begin consciousness work, that we do, tend to interrupt or regularly speak unkind words to ourselves. To start talking with purpose, we must be willing to step outside of ourselves, pause, and witness. This awareness involves not reacting to the constant chatter in our minds and instead observe. This experience is the vantage point we need to become conscious of the negative behaviors and patterns in our words. It is a beautiful process of learning and renewal.