Feb. 4, 2011: Everyday language carries a powerful message, by Sister Anna Marie Broxterman

Recent events both nationally and locally show the critical need for promoting civility and our year of peace efforts. I think we are all shocked and saddened when violence or the threat of violence occurs. Some literature would have us believe that as a nation we are getting so used to violence that we are desensitized to it or perhaps paralyzed by the force of its presence. I hope that never happens.

Last year I was one of the instructors for “Engage,” a course on nonviolence offered by the Concordia Year of Peace Committee. The premise of Engage and other teachings on nonviolence and nonviolent communication is that awareness is the key to bringing about change. We need to become aware of how our own thoughts, word and actions may be violent, even though that is not our intention at all.

Language is powerful. Our everyday speech contains phrases such as “he really bombed out,” “that was cut-throat competition,” “I’m tied up now,” “she was shot down” and many others. Usually people do not literally mean what the words say.

At this year’s annual Concordia Chamber of Commerce dinner Jan. 15, one of the speakers talked about how we become what we think. In a conversation later, a woman at the dinner told me how the Year of Peace project has awakened her to the importance of words. She said she finds herself changing words she once upon a time would have spoken.  And with that change, she said, her thought patterns also change. She said she’s glad to see the Concordia Year of Peace continue for another year because she is enjoying the change it is making in her.

Her comments reminded me of a quote from Gandhi: “Be the change that you want to see in the world.”  That’s what the Civility Pledge, which 299 Concordians recently signed, hopes to accomplish.

I personally am committed to nonviolence and nonviolent communication and desire to grow in awareness day by day of how my own language and thoughts impact my actions. It also means I really need to listen to what the other person is saying. I need to make an effort to understand what is behind their words. It’s so easy to listen and make a quick judgment but nonviolent communication challenges us not to do that.  It means listening to – and responding to – the other person with dignity and respect.

Basically, what I have learned about nonviolent communication is that it is the Golden Rule put into action:  “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”.

Try this for yourself. See what happens to you when you start becoming aware of your own thoughts and language and make an effort to choose words that you yourself would want to hear.

— Sister Anna Marie Broxterman is a member of the Concordia Year of Peace Committee and serves congregational Leadership Council of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia.

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