Lately, there has been an epidemic of cruelty among the girls in this house. In all the discord, which often turns violent, it is the words that upset me most. Such terribly withering and snide insults these verbally gifted females are hurling at each other! They are using their powers for evil, and we are all suffering for it. So I got an idea on how to fix it once I stumbled upon this quotation from Paul to the Ephesians:
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.
This wise guideline struck me immediately as something we needed to keep front and center for a while, till being more careful with our words became automatic. I remembered the Buddha’s advice on this matter, and decided we could add that in for good measure. It turns out that lots of people have realized the importance of how we “use our words,” and have made pretty posters on the topic. I gathered two pre-made posters I liked, and made one for the quotation above, before laminating and cutting them out:
The next step, I decided, was to have each girl be in charge of one poster, and read it to the rest of us. She was then asked to explain what she thought the poster was advising. Each girl did very well with this, and got the main message I had hoped to convey: If you can’t say something nice, then don’t say anything at all.
Each girl was then responsible for hanging her poster in a location known to be a hotbed of contention and conflict. While they are experts at picking a fight anywhere, any time, about anyTHING, some areas leaped out at us: the DINING ROOM, the AREA NEAR THE TV, and the BEDROOM. The plan was then to hope that, during a conflict, someone along the way would catch herself or others using unfortunate speech and point silently to the poster in that area, prompting a peaceful regroup.
This is where the plan — so elegant, so teacherly — went awry (i.e., in the application in a real-life family). First, the girls fought about who got to post in what area. Why did Lily insist on using FIVE pieces of tape instead of the four apiece I had designated, so someone was shortchanged on purpose (Emma argued)? Jane also pointed out to all that THEY weren’t the boss, and she would act freely, thank you. For laughs, Lily hung hers in an obscure location. Next, the girls each monitored MY speech with laser-like intensity, and pointed sarcastically to the signs, quickly zeroing in on precisely which principle I had violated. After that demoralizing fol-de-rol, the posters remain in locations Damon and I later moved them to, living testaments to my wrong-headed idealism. However, I can’t stop hoping that their presence will slowly make some sort of impact in this escalating war zone, three tokens of nonviolence that weren’t there before. There goes my idealism again.