Not long ago, my daughter, Thea, was driving me to the airport. I was headed to EWTN to produce the next round of programs for Women of Grace. Strapped into the back seat was my almost 7 year old granddaughter, Julia.
“Mom,” said Julia. “It is so sad that Maggie and Elise aren’t friends anymore.”
“They’re not?” asked my daughter. “What happened?”
“Maggie said ‘duh’.” Julia replied somberly.
“She said, ‘duh’?” asked Thea.
“Yes,” said Julia, clearly with the sound of “duh” in her voice.
“Well,” said Thea. “You know Julia, there are two meanings for ‘duh.’ It all depends on your tone of voice. You can say ‘duh’ and it means you agree with someone. Or you can say ‘duh’ and it means the other person is stating the obvious — you know, saying what everyone else already knows.”
“I know that, Mommy. She said ‘duh’!” definition two.
“That’s too bad,” said my daughter.
“I know.” said Julia. “It’s really sad.”
Thea and I exchanged a knowing glance. Julia was “coming of age” in the world of social communication and beginning to realize that tone of voice matters. She was also beginning to see how fragile friendship can be — the power of one syllable can destroy it.
Tone of voice and tonal inflection communicate — often more directly than the actual words being spoken. Tone of voice can bring comfort and solace or hurt and misery. It can be an instrument that heals and bonds a friendship or a sword that slashes it to ribbons.
Tonal inflection is just the same — it can indicate solidarity or derision by the mere emphasis placed on one word over another.
Just as we ought to select our words carefully so that we properly communicate what we are expressing and are rightly understood, so too should we guard our tone of voice and tonal inflection to make sure of the same.
What we say matters. And how we say it matters, too. Both are creative forces that can bring joy and peace or sorrow and pain. What are your words saying today? Are they relationship builders or relationship busters?