I can still remember standing in line for dinner at summer camp. My best friend and I had just met six other teenage strangers who we would share a cabin with. As our counselor had asked us to do, we’d gone around the circle to share our name and a few details with each other.
Standing in line for salad and lasagna I said rather brazenly, “Oh my gosh, how annoying was that girl sitting next to you!? Ugh. I can tell she wants to be our best friend, but no thanks. Couldn’t they find another cabin for her?”
I laughed, we agreed — and then I turned around.
There stood the girl, frozen and horrified. The very girl I had just judged and dismissed. She heard everything; I could tell by the tears in her eyes and the look on her face. I was mortified. Humiliated. I wanted to crawl under the salad bar or lie my way out of the reality, but there was no where to go, nowhere to hide. My words had just done the ripping thing that words can so easily do and I wanted to rewind the tape. I learned a very valuable lesson that night and spent the whole week trying to heal the wound I’d created.
Our words hold incredible power. With our words, we can bless someone and we can also rip them apart, devaluing and dismissing their humanity. We have the power to advocate, to build up, to tell the truth, yet also to tear down, to judge, to withhold accuracy and to create something altogether not true, a lie.
Today communication moves quickly. It’s disposable and quick; seldom much thought or consideration can be given to the weight of what our words can mean to one another. Regardless of their speed or intention, we are still responsible for every word that crosses our lips. The more reflection and intention we can give to our words, the more often the words we say will have the power to heal rather than hurt — to bless and not curse.
Here are five actions to take so that you can use your words well and avoid the disaster that results when we say things that wound each other:
1. Think before you speak.
It’s not enough to always say, “I didn’t mean to…” because the truth is, we need to be careful about the words we say and how they impact those around us. Take a second, a time out, a moment — and think about what you want to say.
You’ll change the course of your relationships if you are more thoughtful about the way you respond. Usually, the cruelest words we say come out of our mouths in the heat of a moment. Put yourself in the shoes of the person you’re speaking to and consider how they’ll hear your words before saying them.
2. Tell people what you see.
We can be great encouragers with our words. Every person wants to be seen for his or her shining moments and great qualities. Reflect to someone, as though your words are a mirror, and show him or her through your words what you see. Tell them you’re grateful, share what you love about them, and build others up with the things you say.
The more reflection and intention we can give to our words, the more often the words we say will have the power to heal rather than hurt …
3. Write letters and cards.
The written word can also be a powerful way to use your words. Writing a card or letter allows the recipient to read it over and over, pouring over the kindness and truths you give to them. Words are often better than any gift you may give. Don’t store up your kind thoughts — share them freely.
4. Speak up for those who need a voice.
Advocating for those who don’t have a voice and for those who need hope and help is another great way to use your words. If there is a cause or mission you care about or a person who is in your community that often goes unseen or unloved, be the person who does the unexpected. Commit to speaking up for the underdog. Imagine the power of your words and their ability to literally change the lives of the people living around you each day. Your voice and words can create lasting change, activating a new pathway for the way others see who they are, see each other and vision the possibilities for what their life could be. You’ll be glad you said something when you see the positive impact your words can have.
5. Say you’re sorry when you mess up.
We are all going to say things we regret. It’s part of life. When we’ve hurt someone else, we have the opportunity to do the brave and good thing and say we’re sorry. Often saying sorry is hard — but it’s got a great bit of power as well. Words full of kindness, humility and forgiveness heal us and return us to each other so that our relationships are rich and full of love.
How have you experienced both the hurting and healing sides of words?
Image via Michael Giroux