It’s not what you said, it’s how you said it. 

It’s not what you said, it’s how you said it.

These are frequent, infamous words of my mother.


She said them often to me, so that must mean that I frequently said nasty things!  And I was probably saying them to my sister. Thankfully (and hopefully!) she has forgiven me after all these years.

Isnt it interesting how you can change the entire meaning of your words by your tone?   Take for example the phrase, “That’s just great.”

1.  Your child comes home from school and shows you his artwork. “That’s just great!”

2.  You head to the laundry room to start one of this week’s loads, and the start button on the washer does nothing. “That’s.Just.Great.”

See what I mean?!  I know you know.

This is also a great acting exercise.  We theatrical folks would love this… “How many different ways can you say this phrase?!”

Tone is really important.   My niece, Charlotte, and I have had a conversation about how it can be difficult to determine a person’s tone from a text.  We think things like, “She didn’t use any exclamation points…is she mad?!”  Charlotte and I, both, are “expressive texters.”  We like exclamation points and icons. But we also understand that there are different texting personalities out there, and you can’t read too much into a message.

The words we say and how we say them can really hurt someone, though, even if they’re said without thinking, out of anger, out of loss of control……  My late husband, Andrew, and I were both very hurt in the past by someone’s hot-tempered, unkind words said in a very unkind way.

So I guess I have to disagree with my mom for some cases, then.  Although is is a really great quote, and I will continue to use it, I believe that what really matters is what you say AND how you say it.  The words we speak, the tone we use, and how we act really show what’s going on inside us.  When you hear disturbing words it’s a real red flag….

This reminds me of a song by David Wilcox (the American David Wilcox).  He’s my favorite singer song-writer and Andrew and I, along with friends, got to see him perform numerous times.  He has written lots of winners but the one I reference now is called “Run.”  The song is about a girl who goes out on a date, and at first all is well.  Then she witnesses her date being rude to the waiter.  (Can you imagine!?)  Of course the lyrics tell her to “Run!”  In other words, watch out for those moments that make you feel just a bit uneasy.  And if that person’s words make your jaw drop you’d better catch the first flight out!  If he/she made you feel uneasy once it will probably happen again.  And you may look back and realize they had been doing/saying “interesting” things all along, and you just didn’t want to admit it.  No one should stay in a relationship like that…….

I’m not saying you should ditch every friend that says something off-putting!  We are human; we all need to dish, to vent… forgive, and to be tolerant to a certain degree.  But I do think it pays to be a little wary……

Andrew was the kindest person I’ve known; he was definitely not the kind of guy who would be rude to the waiter.  As I’ve said before, and like myself and everyone I know, he was not perfect.  But I wish he were here now so I could tell him how much I appreciated his kindness.  I didn’t say things like that enough.  Probably none of us do.  Oh, once in a while I did. I hope that when no words were spoken at all he knew that I admired him.

I tell my girls, “Be as kind as you can possibly be.”  I think they usually are, maybe not to each other(!), and I’m always impressed when I see them say or do something that is particularly helpful.

I used to play the piano for funerals.  Honestly, I dread these kinds of events when I have to attend them, but when I was providing a service, creating an atmosphere, those events became for me really sweet moments that helped people in their grief.  Anyway, I have heard lots of lovely things said about people who have just passed away.  I think we turn the person into a mini saint of sorts, not only because it’s socially appropriate to say good things about them, but also because we want to focus on all the good things the person did, the kind things they said, the generous or humorous way they behaved.  The good things become the important things, the things that really matter, the things we want to remember.

Were you ever in a situation where you had had a fight or were just totally annoyed at the core with someone you love?!  Mmm hmm!  So you’re in the midst of this steam and irritation, and then something else happens. You find out that someone else has really hurt your person!  How could they do that?!  All those feelings of anger or irritation we were just feeling take a vacation!  Why?  Because deep down we know what really matters in life.  We know that those little annoying things, although they do have some importance, are not the end-all and be-all.  It’s then that we want to retract all the things we said, and “how we said them” and focus on the core of life….which is love, itself…. Love for the person who was hurt, love we need to return to the universe.

When someone says something mean I think it’s helpful to look inside them and be curious, to try to understand what might be going on inside them.  That reminds me of a quote I think I put on instagram one time!  It was something about not judging another person because you don’t know what trials or challenges that they’ve had to put up with that day.  Perhaps understanding that everyone has their own challenges helps to make their situation explainable, even excusable.

On the flip side, when we regret something we’ve said we need to look inside and be curious and understand, and even fix, what’s going on inside.  We hope others know that we have our bad days, and can forgive us……

Today is the day to speak words of admiration and encouragement, especially to the people we love.  I have said these words so often in the past several months: You just never know.  Tomorrow you may not have those people in your life, and you’ll want to be sure that you are proud of what you’ve said, and how you’ve said it.


If you’d like to hear “Run” by David Wilcox you can catch him on youtube:

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