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Language of the Heart| Heartaches and Heartsongs

Big Heart of Art - 1000 Visual Mashups
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In the post: Caring Community| People First Language we talked about the power of labels, negative stereotypes and the paradigm shift of looking at all people as PEOPLE First!

Today, on Valentine’s Day, I am asking you to think about how you use words:

Do my words cause Heartaches?
Do my words cause Heartsongs?

What are you doing?

WHAT are you doing?

What ARE you doing?

What are YOU doing?


The same words can be said in anger or with gentle concern.
The speaker, the listener, the context of the communication, as well as the intent all make a difference.

Parents, Teachers, Coworkers, Friends, Enemies… We have all been misunderstood and misinterpreted. We have all wished we could swallow what came out of our mouths–take back our words. We have all been both aggressors and victims and have given heartaches as well as heartsongs.

HEARTACHES: “What’s that mess on your shirt?”
HEARTSONGS: “I see you have paint on your shirt.”

HEARTSONGS: “Let’s talk about this before you decide.”

HEARTACHES: “Get over here right now!”
HEARTSONGS: “I need you with me.”

HEARTACHES: “I told you so.”
HEARTSONGS: “That was harder than you thought.”

In the comment section, let’s share some ideas on how you could make each of the following examples into either a heartache, or a heartsong?

Scenarios: Heartaches or Heartsongs.

1. Sara is eating breakfast. The bus is coming in 5 minutes. She spills her juice while reaching for the cereal.

What could you say that would cause a heartache?

What could you say that would cause a heartsong?

2. Ken wants to help his friend wash the car. He accidentally squirts him with the hose.

What could you say that could cause a heartache?

What could you say that could cause a heartsong?

3. Emily comes home from work. When asked about her day, she begins to cry and says, “Jim doesn’t like me.”

What could you say that could cause a heartache?

What could you say that could cause a heartsong?

By speaking with your heart, you may be able to bring out the very best in people. Give them a chance to talk. Listen patiently.

And of course, there is always the quote: “I know that you believe you understand what you think I said, but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.” But we’ll save that for another post.

I’m wishing you a day filled with heartsongs. May you have many opportunities to give them and to receive them. Spread the love.

Keep Climbing: Onward and Upward
All my love,



Do you have any examples of heartaches, heartsongs?
Heartaches turned into heartsongs?
Use the examples above, or share some from your own experiences.

Adapted from Project Prepare, Ohio (1995)

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16 Responses to “Language of the Heart| Heartaches and Heartsongs”

  • Donna says:

    I believe people are ready to check out new possibilities, new ways of seeing and perceiving reality. So many people tell me how frustrated they are with old dysfunctional ways of interacting that are rooted in co-dependent behavior and communication. They say please, just give me something I can count on that works fast and with ease and grace. Language of the Heart fits the bill. In a few simple steps we can transform our lives.

    • Mary E. Ulrich says:

      You are right Donna. So many people wring their hands like there is nothing they can do to make a positive impact in this world. We can transform our lives and the lives of others by doing something as easy as using kind words.

  • Really informative blog post.Thanks Again. Keep writing.

  • Oh, Mary!

    What a profound article!

    This week, I remember very well I unintentionally gave a heartache, and yesterday I think I received one. But it’s fair, because the best way to learn to write better, is to write more. I think it’s the same thing with “written” communication, which is much harder than oral communication. Because by phone it’s possible to “hear” a cheerful and positive voice if this tone is used (plus the immediate reactivity and interaction that quickly sets the context and save it from any deviation.)

    When you write something, you can’t save your Tweet, comment, letter, or any written content from being misunderstood, when you are not an ace in writing…

    And sometimes, you think you wrote something really logical and that are going to be understood, then you realize your words took a completely different signification for the receiver, who was rather in a defensive position without you even thinking about it. Some subjects are so sensible depending on people’s lives…

    Well, all I can say is that, not only no one is perfect, but no one is meant to be perfect and then, the most important thing is to always to ask ourselves this question before writing anything about relatively sensible subjects:
    “Is he/she going to understand what I really mean by these words?”
    “Is there a possibility that he/she will understand a different meaning “against” him/her?”

    Easy to think about it right now but, back then when it happens, you are moving fast, too fast to anticipate anything, and you realize you shouldn’t even try to re-open the conversation, especially when you don’t have another mean than bad written communication skills.

    • Mary E. Ulrich says:

      Hi Super, glad you liked it. I thought you also added profound thoughts about the difficulty of writing. Anna also mentioned Twitter, but I never even thought of Twitter and the spontaneous–out in the universe written word.

      Love your questions: “Is he/she going to understand what I really mean by these words?”
      “Is there a possibility that he/she will understand a different meaning “against” him/her?”

      Writing carries responsibility and freedom. Who would have thought it would be so difficult?
      Wishing you many Heartsongs.

  • Anna Lichtenstein says:

    Hello! My name is Anna Lichtenstein and I am a student at Miami University. I found this discussion very interesting. The first thing I thought of when reading your opening words about the different ways to express the phrase “What are you doing” was text messaging. I send on average 15 texts a day. The problem with this form of communication is that sometimes it can be hard to determine if the friend meant the phrase to be a Heartache or a Heartsong.

    I think that the way people talk to each other is extremely important. It almost doesn’t matter as much what is said but how it’s said. That is my opinion and I enjoyed reading about Heartaches vs Heartsongs.

    • Mary E. Ulrich says:

      You’re right Anna, written communication is more difficult to interpret than oral language. When you are face-to-face there is body language, facial expressions, phrasing and lifts in your voice.

      Many teachers and parents have miscommunication because of written communications. They say the best communication is face to face, than phone, than written. Wishing you many heartsongs.

  • I think it’s interesting *which* one we go for. #1 and #3 (especially #3) I couldn’t come up with anything.

    For #2:

    Heartache: F**k you!
    Heartsong: Hey, I didn’t know I smelled that bad!

    Can you tell I have boys?
    Alison Golden recently posted..11 Things That Drive Me Nuckin’ Futz

  • Gary Jordon says:

    Hi Mary. I’m going to have to think on this one for quite a while. this is really challenging.Especially since I’m Scotch/Irish by decent. And the whole Isle is full of Spit fires. We are known for short fuses and heartache words.

    Over the years I have tried to be more in the heartsong category.Now I’ll keep this post in mind as I continue my journey.

    Maybe in a day or two I’ll be able to come up with some examples or I’ll just have to play with your. I like th stories from the two readers above they have great examples of heartsongs.

    • Mary E. Ulrich says:

      Hi Gary,

      Natalie and Katie did have great examples. I’ll bet you do too.
      Think about the nurses who made a difference with your mom. I’ll bet you have stories of caring people (Heartsongs) who gave a kind word or deed. And, I’m sure you had many examples of non-caring people (Heartaches). When you went to visit, was there someone who said, “You really love your mom, you are such a great son.” Or, “What? You’re here again!” 🙂
      I’m sure the other people around you could see the love and devotion you gave to your mom.
      Be happy Gary. Your Scotish and Irish ancestors might have had “spit fires” (love that phrase BTW) but they also had love, humor, and called upon the “wee” ones to get through the heartaches and heartsongs of life. 🙂

  • Natalie Monnich says:

    Hi, my name is Natalie Monnich and I am also a student at Miami University. I tutor at one of the local elementary schools. Last semester when I was tutoring two students in math I noticed how competitive the students would get with each other causing each other both heartache and heartsong. One time in particular we were playing a math game, and the one student was boasting to the other how he beat him in the game causing the one student heartache. I kindly explained to both of the students how it is not about who wins or loses, but it was about improving their math skills. From then on both of the students were kind to one another, and no matter who won at the end they would say to each other good game and other encouraging words like that. I hope that both of the students continue to encourage each other because I think that by the end of our tutoring together they realized how much more fun they could have when encouraging, and saying kind words to each other instead of being so competitive with one another.

    • Mary E. Ulrich says:

      “Good Game” to you too Natalie.

      Sounds like you made a big difference in the boys lives. Isn’t it funny how, as teachers, we set up competetive games thinking this will inspire the students to do better–when in fact, it could be causing other issues?

  • Katie Hurley says:

    Hi, my name is Katie Hurley and I am a student at Miami University. I am tutoring a fourth grade student who struggles with reading and one day I was in the classroom waiting for her to get her materials ready, when I heard this big crash in the back of the room. A little boy had stacked a bunch of chairs together (the class was instructed to clean up) and he stacked one too many, resulting in the crash that was the chairs falling down. They knocked things over and made a big disturbance. Instead of raising her voice or making some crazy comment to the student, the teacher laughed and said “You must be stronger than you thought, look at how many chairs you were able to stack! Maybe next time, you should give your muscles a break and only stack a few.” This is my example of a heartsong. It was so encouraging to see the teacher make that comment rather than yell at the student!

    • Mary E. Ulrich says:

      If I was a behaviorist, I would give you a heart sticker or some tangible.

      That was one terrific story Katie–a heartsong indeed. It’s amazing how your story puts a spring in my step and makes my heart sing. God Bless that teacher and you for sharing it.

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