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Michael E. Angier

By Michael Angier

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You Can't Un-ring a Bell

There's an old ditty that goes, "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me." And most of us know that it simply isn't so. Words can be extremely hurtful.

It's true that it's our reaction to what others say that causes our pain, but we can all agree that much unnecessary distress has been caused by the utterance of unkind words. Sometimes we've been on the receiving end, and other times, we've been the one to say angry, insensitive things.

And once the words are out, you can't ever take them back. You can apologize, you can beg forgiveness, you can claim fatigue, but the damage has been done.

Obviously, the best way to avoid such conflict and harm is to simply not say thoughtless things. But it's not always easy.

Action Point
Whenever you're angry or upset, bite your tongue. It's never helpful  to say things rashly when we're overtired, upset or angry.

Be mindful that your words—whether in person, via email or letter—can rarely be called back. You can't un-ring a bell and you can't completely undo the damage of your angry words.

So don't say them.

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Last Updated 09/29/2004