“Words are the finest invention that human beings have ever made. They build bridges and burn ‘em down. Glue or acid, that’s what the words you say will be.” So says Tyner, a character in Little Green, a novel by Walter Mosley.
Think about your recent conversations. How many words used by you and others were glue and how many were acid?
Bridge-building or glue words are ones that express caring, interest, and perspectives as points of view. They are also ones that seek to summarize or clarify what people seem to have in common. Bridge-building words sound like:
- “I appreciate hearing your perspective”;
- “I like what you just said and I’d like to hear more”;
- “Here’s my point of view… What’s yours?”;
- “We seem to be saying similar things about this situation…have I summarized these points of view correctly?”
Building bridges among us with our words is the first step to bridging our differences.
“Burn ‘em down” or acid words are ones that express dislike, indifference, and opinions as truths. They tend to focus on convincing others of the rightness of one point of view. They also tend to criticize people personally to undermine their perspectives (arguing ad hominem).
Acid words sound like:
- Not listening;
- “You must all must realize that…”;
- “The solution is obvious” (It’s what I just said);
- “You’re just a dilettante, a dabbler.”
We seem to be more adept at burning bridges than building bridges in our country these days. If only we could see the endless webs of destroyed bridges that result from the seemingly smallest acid words we speak (or Tweet), often unconsciously. And the endless string of bridges we build with even the smallest glue words.
Mary’s book “Talk Matters! Saving the World One Word at a Time” is now available. Click here to purchase it.