Each and every day, we all barf out thousands of words. It’s an auto-pilot kind of motion, requiring little thought and very little effort. But as we toss those words, sailing out into the open air, most of us have little regard for who is listening and just what those words might mean to them. We are blissfully unaware of what those around us are thinking and feeling, what they’ve been through and what they’re dealing with right now.
My friend tried to overdose using aspirin. Why aspirin? Because she’d heard someone point out, in a discussion about different ways to end a life, that aspirin was the most effective over-the-counter drug. It was a casual, innocent conversation where not one of them was to know what effect their words would have four years later.
British society, in particular, is a strange one. We don’t talk about mental health, treating it instead as a taboo subject and yet, we all make fly-a-way comments and say ridiculous things as though it’s normal. Some of these phrases are so over-used they might be labelled as idioms; “It makes me want to shoot myself” for one.
There’s no one saying these things whilst meaning harm. In some cases, it’s quite the opposite; we joke about things that make us uncomfortable in a feeble attempt to keep from ignoring them. We don’t like to think about mental health- something of an irony – and that includes thinking about the possibility that someone around us has, or is, facing any kind of struggle. So what do we do? Should we each censor our every word, just in case? Or just take our chances?
I think there’s a balance to be found. We cannot possibly control our language to the point that we’re certain not to hurt anyone, because we’re all rather short of the ability to read minds and that is what we would need to do. Anything we say can trigger anything, in anyone. Instead, we just need to remember that we are responsible for the effect that every one of our words has on those around us. Whilst that doesn’t necessarily mean that we should change what we say, it does mean that we ought to be prepared to deal with the consequences of what we say, being compassionate when we need to.
And that, really, is all that anyone can ask.