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Words: So innocent and powerless as they are, as standing in a dictionary, how potent for good and evil they become in the hands of one who knows how to combine them.”

Nathaniel Hawthorne

The weight. The power. The gravity. Of words.

To hurt. To heal. To cause turmoil. To bring peace.

We speak and write them every day, thousands of them in fact. Most of them innocent, spoken without a thought, flowing from our mouths and our fingers – the things we say all the time. But each of the words that flow from us has the potential to carry far more weight than we are aware of. I say that, but in reality, each of us is utterly aware of how powerful words can be. We’ve all been on the receiving end of hurtful words – whether they were spoken or written with the intention to hurt – or said in jest which came out more like a slight or criticism. Perhaps the words which hurt were offered by someone with no intent to hurt; however, their lack of knowledge of your story or situation triggered something in you which brought those past wounds to the surface. And once again, words wounded you.

My Dad was a psychologist and my Mom a mental health therapist. I certainly grew up with an understanding of words being a powerful force for healing – it’s what they did for a living! Hearing people’s stories on a daily basis and helping them process whatever they needed to process. They helped with their words – words they learned through years of schooling and reading – taught through words of those wiser than they.

As a person who grew up in church, I heard all of the Bible verses growing up of how evil the tongue can be. How it can crush the spirit, how our words should build people up and not tear that down. Religious or not, I believe we can all agree on how powerful the tongue can be.

What a different world we would be living in if everyone was mindful of their words. Look at the world around us, the current political climate, the words of leaders causing pain. The lack of words from those in places of power to stand up against those causing pain. The fighting between sides vs. being for each other – for people. (More on this to come…) 

Knowing we need to mindful of our words is one thing – living it out every day is difficult. But why? Why is it so difficult? Because we are human. We are fallible. We will make mistakes. The question is what comes next? What do we do when we hurt with our words? If our words wound, if our ignorance causes pain… we need to own it, apologize, and when necessary, make amends. I know this is something we’ve all done from time to time – but we haven’t done it every time. We haven’t done it enough.

Many of us hope to be self-aware enough to know when we’ve crossed a line – when we’ve gone too far – but we are all guilty of being in our own bubble, seeing through our own lenses, and justifying things we say far too often. I know I have been guilty of this. I’ve seen others say things – completely unaware – thinking they were joking – and watched the face of the person they were speaking to fall – crushed by the words. One moment, in particular, I witnessed recently – the person saying the hurtful words were in a position of power, of authority over the person the words were spoken to. In that situation – the person in authority was in a role that is meant to build up and bring healing to those in their care. As an outsider – I could clearly see the hurt the words caused – and I could tell the person speaking them was stuck in their own bubble, completely unaware their words would carry the weight they did.

How do we help ourselves not do the same thing? I am not saying we will never make those mistakes, but how can we help minimize them?

  • Be mindful. Be more aware of the words that leave our mouths and the impact they have when we release them into the world. Seek to see how your words land.
  • Be intentional. Start your day declaring to yourself an intent to speak in love, to speak words that heal instead of wound.
  • Reflect. At the end of your day, look back on your words – did you say or write something perhaps you shouldn’t have?
  • Mend. If you realized you spoke in a way you shouldn’t have – own it, and speak the words needed to heal.

As I type these words, one of my favorite quotes comes to mind:

Did I offer peace today?
Did I bring a smile to someone’s face?
Did I say words of healing?
Did I let go of my anger and resentment?
Did I forgive?
Did I love?
These are the real questions.Henri Nouwen

May these be the questions we ask ourselves each day.

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