Words are important.
Words create our reality.
Words are the pathway to both pleasure and pain.
Yet so often we don’t realise that our words can save or break lives so when I heard the term “verbal first aid” I immediately fell in love with it.
The term was coined by Judith Simon Prager PhD, a writer, teacher, lecturer and practising clinical hypnotherapist. She has great respect for the power of words and after a lifetime of writing in many different capacities realised how “words can provoke, inspire, harm, or heal, can even influence and change a life’s course”, she decided to put her skills to the service of good.
Predominately, Judith teaches how to speak in medical emergencies to calm patients, relieve pain, promote healing, and save lives – mainly to firefighters, emergency medical personnel, doctors, nurses, and police officers across the US and around the world.
It makes sense doesn’t it – that the people who deliver physical first aid also have verbal first aid in their tool kit. Words that soothe, bring calm, and help the person receiving treatment to get into the best mental state so they can deal with what’s going on.
The image that springs to mind is a super-talented doctor with the best medical skills losing his patience and yelling at the staff around him, all the while telling the patient to get their sh*t together and accept that they’re trying to help them. The patient meanwhile is terrified as they are in pain and their pain is now exacerbated because of the words the doctor is using and of course his delivery of them. His words don’t promote healing, calm, or most importantly, a sense of safety whatsoever.
It’s a simple example, but do you get what I am saying?
It got me thinking of all the people who have to be first aiders for either their job or because they choose to. Maybe they are parents or volunteers and just feel better having the knowledge. I know that two out of three people in my life either hold a current first aid certificate or have held one in the past. As a society we recognise that first aid training is paramount in saving lives.
Yet, if our words can be band aids and bandages, medicines and balms, how come we are not taught any verbal first aid? In fact, have we even considered just how valuable verbal first aid is across all areas of life?
Like medical first aid, verbal first aid can be used in the home, the workplace, the park or the airport. It is not location or situation specific.
With a background in the aviation industry as well as human behaviour, I have noticed patterns on aircraft around communication. Basically, the same handful of crew have the same handful of problems with passengers. The one tool we have at our fingertips on an aircraft is our communication and in my experience this is the most powerful one when dealing with people.
There are crew who use their words with so much elegance and panache that they very rarely have problems with passengers. On the other hand there are crew who consistently, month after month, have full-blown conflict with passengers. This can escalate from the drink service being cut short right through to the Australian Federal Police meeting the aircraft and escorting the offending passenger off.
The consequences of that can be big – A No Fly Status against their name or – if their company has bought their ticket – they can lose their job, and they normally do!
I recognise that very occasionally, there are passengers who are behaving like complete idiots. Humans sometimes do that! But I firmly believe that if verbal first aid was a prerequisite for every crew member, especially the ones who seem to continually find themselves in the middle of a metaphorical car crash, how different things would be.
Maybe the limb could be reattached or the bleeding could be stemmed before things turned really bad.
The use of verbal first aid in relationships also got me thinking. How quick we can be to cut each other with our words and then not have adequate skills to repair the damage. I have seen people with emotional wounds that when almost healed get ripped open again because there were no stitches administered in the early stages. The same wound never heals properly and therefore becomes a permanent fixture of a person.
How many relationships would be happier and healthier if we all knew the basics of verbal first aid? I imagine quite a few.
Our words are so powerful: they have created wars and saved lives so maybe this is the right moment for some introspection. I invite you to examine your own verbal first aid skills, are you creating wars or saving lives?
Because like medical first aid, it is as simple as signing up and learning some new skills. The key though, is to appreciate just how powerful you are. Like the moment you come across a medical emergency and start to deliver CPR, you can do that with your words.