My naturopath* of some 25 years is of Italian extraction. I wouldn’t mention it except that her attitude to the consumption of wine as it relates to one’s health is refreshingly European and practical – “Just drink better wine, less often.” I can’t help but think this advice could also be applied to our use of words. Too many, too often and too negative in my humble opinion.
No sooner had I picked up the book Words Can Change Your Brain by Andrew Newberg M.D. and Mark Robert Waldman when two very public incidents pulled into sharp focus the sheer power of words, particularly negative ones, and the crushing need for brevity among our media commentators.
Here’s the scenario demonstrating the need to ‘put the brain into gear’ before opening one’s mouth. A young girl insults an indigenous football player from the opposing team. The President of the offending fan’s club acquits himself well in the first instance apologising to the player in person and promising swift action against person responsible.
In an utterly incredible turn of events the very same Club President engages in a mindless ramble on radio making a highly offensive reference, in the same vein as the original taunt, to the very same indigenous player to whom he’d apologised not 48 hours earlier. His defence? Well, that was a mindless ramble as well with ‘mumbled words’ and ‘exhaustion’ cited for talking too much and out of turn.
Mr McGuire’s recent troubles stem in part from the need to ensure nil ‘dead air’ on radio. Sports commentators are particularly prone to rambling into politically incorrect or just plain inane territory in their rush to fill the airwaves. This wordy phenomenon should be consigned to the ‘fewer of them’ category.
Under the sub heading ‘Speaking Briefly and the Thirty Second Rule’ the authors of Words Can Change Your Brain outline the dangers of too many words. Granted, they are referring to conversations rather than radio or television broadcasts but the contention is equally applicable, “…if you talk for several minutes, the other person’s brain will only recall a fraction of what you’ve said an, it might not be the part you wanted to convey.” No kidding.
Newberg and Waldman go on to contend that there are two major advantages to speaking briefly which they define as no more than 30 seconds at a time. Firstly being concise forces you to think before you speak. (Now there’s a novel concept and not just for radio broadcasters either.) Secondly, speaking briefly “…limits our ability to express negative emotions. Extreme brevity keeps the emotional centres of the brain from sabotaging a conversation.”
And why is the absence of negative emotions in speech so important? Newberg and Waldman say “..the moment a person expresses even the slightest degree of negativity, it increases negativity in both the speaker’s and listener’s brains.” Cited research indicates “The more you stay focused on negative words and thoughts, the more you can actually damage key structure that regulate your memory feelings and emotions.” Vocalising negativity releases even more stress chemicals in not only one’s own brain but the brain of the person/people who are listening.
That’s a heck of a responsibility – one that you’d think ‘shock jock’ Howard Sattler should have been more mindful of before embarking on his recent, unfortunate line of questioning with former Prime Minister, Julia Gillard about ‘rumours’ regarding her partner’s sexuality. “I’m not saying it. This is what you hear..” was his defence. But you are saying it, Howard and in a very negative fashion.
Negative thinking is highly self-perpetuating according to Newberg and Waldman. It doesn’t matter if the negativity is your own or other peoples – the more you are exposed to it, the more your brain tends to generate further negative thoughts and feelings.
“And if you bring that negativity into your speech, you can pull everyone around you into a downward spiral that may eventually lead to violence. And the more you engage in negative dialogue, at home or at work, the more difficult it becomes to stop.”
Put these recent media examples together with rising phenomena of verbal diarrhoea and worse, trolling on social media and it seems our day to day existence is awash with words, negative ones in particular.
Better quality words and less of them, like wine consumption, might just be the most sensible and healthy way to proceed.
*Rita Cozzi, a very talented, dedicated and Italian naturopath based in Macquarie Street, Sydney.