Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Thoughts on words January 25, 2022

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
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Magnetic poetry words I strung together and posted on my refrigerator. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2022)

WORDS MATTER. Which we use, how we use them and when. They can hurt. They can uplift. They can communicate a message. They can unite. They can divide. Words are, undeniably, powerful. And sometimes we’re better off not speaking or writing them.

When words are used in anger, in a knee-jerk reaction to something, then the consequences are often negative. “Think before you speak” seems particularly sage advice. Yet, we all forget and fail to filter our thoughts before they slip off our tongues or fingers.

Likewise, I find myself also pondering the depth of words, particularly when asked, “How are you?” More often than not, at least here in Minnesota, that’s a trite question. The expectation is that you will answer, “Fine.” Even if you’re anything but fine. People don’t necessarily want to hear about your problems/struggles/challenges.

But I challenge you the next time you ask, “How are you?”, to ask like you care. And by that I mean pausing, focusing, looking the other person in the eye and picking up on cues that indicate maybe, just maybe, everything isn’t all right. Listen. Take the time to show genuine care without interjecting your story. Empathy is good, but not at the expense of turning the conversation on you.

TELL ME: What thoughts do you have on words, whether written or spoken? What about listening? Is it a lost art?

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


20 Responses to “Thoughts on words”

  1. beth Says:

    I fully believe in the power of words, and how they can move people and make things happen in so many ways. I agree with you about our ‘how are you?’ greeting, it’s rare when people actually stop to listen or really want to know. listening is a challenge for many people and such an important part of real human connection. I work all the time, with the 3 and 4 year olds in my class, to practice asking a question and waiting for an answer, even during show and tell. when someone shares their prized possession, instead of yelling out, ‘I have that, too!,’ wait until the person is finished telling you about it, and then raise your hand, let them call on you, and ask them a question about it or give them a compliment, perhaps, like, “where did you get that?,” “Why is that one of your favorite stuffed animals?,”or “that looks really cute, and I see why you like it.” they are getting better at it all the time.

    • Beth, thank you for teaching your preschoolers how to listen, how to care, etc. What a wonderful teacher you are and I wish you could teach my 3-year-old grandson when he starts preschool in the fall.

      • beth Says:

        aw, that’s so kind. maybe you can practice with him and this will be a very important thing you can teach him.

      • Actually, his parents are doing a great job with teaching Isaac to be polite, kind, etc. He also has two sets of grandparents nearby, loving on him and teaching him. Thank you for being that person for your little people.

      • beth Says:

        issac is so incredibly lucky for this –

      • Yes, his paternal grandparents recently relocated to Minnesota so they could be near their grandchildren. Likewise, Isaac and Izzy’s aunt and uncle relocated from CA for the same reason, to be near their dear nephew and niece. I love that my grandchildren are encircled by family nearby.

  2. You made me think of that saying “It’s Fine, I’m Fine, Everything is Fine”. I am learning in asking “How are you?” to asking about a person’s family, pets, hobbies, etc. helps open the dialogue a little more and does show you do care too. It depends on the person you are conversing with if you can share the not so nice going on in your life. If not, we tend to say doing good, keep it light, etc. Another thinker today! With what is going on in the world I was already socially awkward at times and this is not helping, especially with what I call “mask mouth” – what did you say?. Happy Day – Enjoy 🙂

  3. We now live in such a selfish fast paced world that taking the time to listen and have real in depth conversations is a rarity. I’d much rather sit and talk vs small meaningless chat.

  4. Valerie Says:

    As most I’m sure, I respond differently to who is asking the question. You can tell if they really want to know, or if it’s just a formality. I know I’m guilty of asking that question too, but try to catch it when I can…and I’m usually very interested in hearing an honest answer.

  5. Susan Ready Says:

    So agree words do matter and when you ask something of someone be specific and sincere in really wanting to know how that person is. Your last paragraph seeking empathy and taking time were thoughtful observations.

  6. I was just reading a book The Comfort Book by Matt Haig and he had a little piece in it about words so that was on my mind when I read this. Words do carry a lot of weight and it is imperative to aware of the impact words have. Too often we sling words around without thinking of the result –myself included. Time to be more mindful of how we use them. They should be used to build up and not tear down. Thanks for the thoughtful post today.

  7. The classic “Fine” answer, yup very Minnesotan. Better to start off with something that can’t be answered with “fine”. Like “What have you been up to lately?” It makes people stop, think before they answer, I have found it gets honest answers. With that people must feel open to listening, empathy, and compassion if they ask someone a question and those people give an honest answer. We all have to expect the unexpected when we ask. It is part of caring for each other and for our communities (online communities as well). Virtual hug to everyone out there.

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