"Do now, do now, what you will wish to have done when your moment comes to die." [St. Angela Merici]

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Tooth-full Truth

By Micky Wolf

Okay, maybe I had to spend too much time in the waiting room recently for my six month dental checkup. The waiting part was in full sway as it was a day off for area school students. Several children populated the space, including a trio of siblings seated behind me. Their unfolding conversation unknowingly provided insight to several of us older folks within earshot of one another in the small area. 

It soon became apparent the older boy had driven his brother and sister to the office. The conversation went something like this. [Not real names]

“Billy, if I buy you this watch would you leave me alone?” Rustling pages indicated older sister had a picture to illustrate her point. 

“Sure!” No doubt how pleased he would be with such generosity.

“Margie, you can’t afford that thing!” older and wiser chauffeur responded.

“What do you mean?” middle child Margie retorted. 

 “It probably costs $10,000—you don’t have that much saved.”

“Right. But, Joe, I’m only in eighth grade.”

 “Yeah, well, we’ll see where you are in a few years,” he pronounced. 

This brief exchange between sister and brothers got me to thinking about truth, and how sometimes the way we present it can be much more of a downer than we realize. One of the most important choices we make when we choose to speak truth is our awareness—or lack thereof—of the underlying tone and demeanor of our voice. The slightest inflection can mean a world of difference to the hearer.

Why tone is so important in the spoken word.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, the sound of what is spoken can speak reams, mostly about the speaker. Not a word leaves our mouths without tone, evident in volume and pitch. Gender certainly affects our speech. Without being sexist, a female voice can tend to be higher and more piercing. By the same token, the male voice tends to be lower and gruffer. All of which makes self-awareness of how we say what we say more important. 

Not a woman I know wants to come off sounding like a shrew. Equally, most men would rather not be interpreted as mean-spirited or unpleasant simply because their deeper tones may intimate that possibility.

Why inflection is so important in the spoken word.

The way we inflect can be indicative of something going on at a deeper level, good or not so good, and once again, within the speaker. The way we speak can provide an unwitting testimony to our present state of being, which is not necessarily all bad, however, when we are hoping to speak truth to another person—philosophical, theological, religious, spiritual, emotional, scientific, and so forth—we best keep “the state of our state” from dominating the exchange. Otherwise we risk engaging in that most destructive of conundrums—projection of self on to the other person as if what we are saying is their authentic truth.

The way we inflect is often interwoven within the context of body language. Whether we like it or not, the cues and clues we give through our physical gestures, facial expressions, feelings and emotions all contribute to the “message within the message” we are communicating to other human beings. Consequently, if we hope to speak truth in a manner which may be best received by the hearer, it is incumbent we consider the implications of how aspects of our personality and delivery accompany our words.

Margie’s truth was one of being required to live with little brother Billy, bent on periodically making her life miserable, at least from her perspective. Her truth also included the possibility, if slightly unrealistic, that buying him a watch would solve her ‘him’ problem. Joe’s truth was knowing the item in question was far beyond the financial reach of his sister’s best intentions—and of the need on his part to make sure she knew that in no uncertain and somewhat caustic terms. 

We can certainly allow that siblings are prone to engaging in the unpleasant business of harassment, buying off the annoying offender, and occasionally being sarcastic, all inherent in the rite of passage of growing up. However, the truth remains—the effectiveness of what we speak will bear considerably upon the how and the way the words come out of our mouths.

Am I tone deaf when it comes to the way I speak?

Am I aware my inflections may affect what I have to say?

Would it be helpful to do a personal attitude check before I open my mouth?

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