It has been over a month since I have been able to hear my mother’s voice. In her final days, I can see her beautiful eyes. Every now and again, I may catch an attempted smile or a squeeze of the hand. Begrudgingly, I have come to peace with the realization that my ears will not again be graced with her words.
The absence of her encouragement, affection, and laughter has reminded me of the immense power in words. Words have the potential to turn around a bad day and be the building blocks for every good day thereafter. They have the strength to provide peace to a grieving heart. They can be the catalyst for change and inspiration. Words validate and express love, being the bandage of unseen wounds.
Conversely, we can all recall a moment where words were yielded like a sharp blade to the spirit. Words can make others feel small or insignificant. They can generate fear and illicit anger. They can also be withheld, leaving others feeling alone or unheard.
We mustn’t forget the potent power of the words we speak to ourselves. What is the voice within us saying? Is it telling us we are stupid, overweight, useless, or without worth? Or is it an empowering compass of encouragement, telling ourselves that we are brave, able, and worthy of love?
In the bible, book of Luke, it states “the mouth speaks from that which fills his heart.” I find that quote compelling. Your words are an immediate reflection of the will and angst that rests within your heart. You have the power to lift and inspire others or the ability to handcuff those around you to negative perceptions and fear. Whether we are well versed or quiet in nature, we all have the power to use the good within us to impact those around us.
Understand how emotions create responses and responses result in words that cannot be taken back. Apologizing for what you have said is important but remember that words may be forgiven not necessarily forgotten. Think about your own life journey. You probably recall, years later, a time someone hurt you with what they said. You may have moved on, but that memory will always color the relationship you have with that person and potentially with others. Taking time when we are upset to gather ourselves and reflect before speaking is a habit that can lead to fruitful conversations rather than slanderous interactions.
Be genuine. Let us take a quote from the work of Lewis Caroll, in his work Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. He brings the value of words to light with the conversation between the March Hare and Alice. It is written, “Then you should say what you mean,” the March Hare went on. “I do,” Alice hastily replied; “at least — at least I mean what I say — that’s the same thing, you know.” When I give a compliment it is not to make someone feel good, it is because they need to know the good they possess. I may not always be able to tell someone what they want to hear. However, I guarantee I can find something, they exceed at or contribute, that they need to hear. We can speak goodness to everyone without having to be disingenuous.
You don’t always have to speak. Sometimes there is nothing to be said and words can wait. It is also important not to be the only voice in the room. Great leaders give others the opportunity to share their solutions before providing their own. Listening is the perfect best friend to guide us on how to use our words.
Being “honest” shouldn’t be a cover for disempowering others. Yes, honesty is a virtue. However, all too often, I see people use this as a pass to say whatever they want without consideration. The flaw in this is that one’s perception of honesty does not necessarily equate to truth. Being honest about your opinions does not make your opinions the truth. This “I was just being honest” defense, is often used as armor to alleviate the guilt or discomfort associated with disempowering others. “Honest” insults do not benefit others, they are simply a form of shame cloaked in false integrity.
Keep your ego in check. We all know those people who love to hear themselves talk. They intently listen to themselves because they are merely seeking a platform to showcase their intelligence or status, never giving thought to the person they are actually speaking with. Be cautious if you find yourself trying to make a point or be “right” when you are speaking with others who are looking for support or eager to share a life experience; this is your mind seeking self-value. You are no longer present. Your words no longer serve a purpose to others.
Do not miss the little opportunities. Every moment I could have said more to those I lost or those who I am currently losing cannot be replaced. If you feel compelled to give a compliment, DO IT! If you don’t know why, but you want to pick up the phone and call someone, CALL THEM. If you want to make amends for something years later, then do it. Do not wait for next time because it is never certain. Do not wait for someone else to initiate a conversation; we only control ourselves. Say words of love whenever you can to whoever you can because life is shorter than we want to believe.
When the sand in our hourglass meets those last few grains, we will want to find peace that we used our words for good. We used our words to pick up. We used our words to advocate for those who could not find their own voice. We will want to take refuge in the fact that we sought out opportunities to convey our love, admiration, and appreciation. Our words will be a testament to our heart and our heart will be the light on someone else’s path, including our own. Be the light and choose to use your words with thoughtful intention. They matter… more than we may ever know.