We’ve all heard this age old idiom right?
You were killin’ it at a game of kickball at recess. Or playing Mario Kart with your mates, someone started losing, and the trash talk started flowing like the Nile. Your friend was tossing out words that were usually reserved for sailors, your uncle Mike after a few too many whiskey shots , and that weird homeless guy who talks to himself on the bus. And what tried and true comeback did you send right back at him? “Sticks and Stones may break my bones, but words may never hurt me!” It never failed.
Elementary school Kenny understood this to be a fundamental truth. Even a concrete law of the very universe itself. Yet, as I get older, I’ve been starting to realize more and more just what incredible power that our words hold.
We tell ourselves that words wont and can’t affect our lives. In our minds, they are just some meaningless vibrations that our throats produce used by us to communicate.
Some have this mindset because they aren’t conscious enough, or willing to understand the impact that their words can have on others. They would rather pretend like their words are just that and won’t make a difference in anyone else’s life. These are the people that are quick to make fun, curse, or gossip. And having that mindset is their personal defense mechanism from feeling any guilt or remorse.
Others, use their words to harm themselves. Filling their minds and mouths with negative self talk, or hateful speech. They don’t know that the things that we say can shape the type of people that we are as well. Or even more so, they subconsciously cling on to things that have been said to them, and let it shape their mentality about the world, and their own self image. Those things that they are saying, and believing, are contributing to actual emotional distress.
Your words affect others
Both of these types of situations are all too common. What we choose to say, or not say, can have an immense impact on not only ourselves, but the world around us. This is something that i’ve personally struggled with my whole life. I used to go around saying anything and everything that I wanted, with no reflection on how it might be received by others. I justified this behavior by saying that I was just being “honest”. I made myself out to be some guru of truth that was gifting all of the blissfully unaware peons around me with my vast reservoir of knowledge(ie. my meaningless opinions). I could not understand why I sometimes made people cry, or why other people wouldn’t laugh at my jokes (insults), and certainly why I didn’t have that many friends.
It was around freshman year of high school that I received a huge wake up call. I had a friend who I really enjoyed spending time with. She was silly, thoughtful, caring, and energetic. The complete opposite of who I was at the time. And one day, she just stopped me mid sentence and said “You know, your words can be very hurtful Kenny. They matter. People listen to what you say, and they take those things to heart. You have to stop being so mean.” I was shocked. Here I was, with someone who I considered to be a friend, and they had the audacity to call me out and insult me like that. But as I thought about that for the next few days, I realized that she was right.
I think that there was always a part of me that knew she was right, but I kept finding excuses for myself to continue behaving like that. Sometimes I would tell myself that I have a right to free speech, and others are just overly sensitive. Other times I would say that i’m doing them a favor by sharing my thoughts with them so they can better themselves. Or just plain ignoring how much I hurt people and pretending like it wasn’t happening. But what she said, and the thoughtful, and polite, but very blunt way she put it, stopped me dead in my tracks.
Another defining moment that shifted my mentality on things and one of the most shameful moments of my life came shortly after my sophomore football season. I had a teammate that I very much enjoyed and was pretty good friends with. As we were walking back from practice one day he stopped me and told me something I will never forget. He said “Hey man, i’m so glad that we’re friends now and you’re not such a dick anymore.” I thought that was a joke so I just laughed it off and asked him what he meant. Then he told me that I “made his life a living hell at one point from all of my bullying” and that he “was seriously depressed because of how [I] treated [him] for awhile.”
Wow. I was stunned. I didn’t even really remember knowing who he was back then. Let alone that I could be the cause of that kind of emotional pain for someone else.
Words are not just sound. They penetrate our thoughts, and burrow holes right into our subconscious and our hearts. They have the power to change mood, career paths, even affect our health. As humans we simply cannot have the mentality that what we say is meaningless. We have to stop making excuses for negative or hurtful speech, and justifying that kind of behavior to ourselves.
Using How We Speak For Good
One of the greatest things about words is that speaking them is not an involuntary process. We do have a choice. And I believe that through effort and focus, we can all get to a point where our words become a contribution to society, rather than a detriment.
Don’t get me wrong though, I am not saying that everyone has to restrict their expression. Or that we can’t be candid or blunt with people. I actually prefer to speak that way, and I think there is a huge benefit to not sugar coating everything or withholding your opinion even though it might not be received in the best way all of the time. But before we say anything to others around us, there should be some thought as to what we are going to say, to whom are we saying it to, and how we are going to say it.
You never know how strong someone is, what they are going through, struggling with, or how they view the world. Your words, and how you say them, have the power to impact them for a lifetime. So I say the next time you go to say something to another person, ask yourself these questions:
Is it true? Is it constructive? Is it necessary? And is it kind?
If you can answer yes to all of those, then you’re on your way to making the world a more positive, better place.