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The Power of Our Words

Personal Perspective: Do we want to use our words to hurt others?

Key points

  • Not everyone realizes how powerful words can be.
  • One negative statement can negate thousands of kind and thoughtful words we have said to someone.
  • It's important to consider how our words—both negative and positive—will affect others and ourselves before we use them.

I think everyone agrees that words are powerful, but I'm not sure that everyone adheres to the importance of our words.

I remember once when I was on vacation in Florida, visiting Cape Canaveral. There was a woman with a child who was about 6 years old, and she started screaming at the top of her lungs at him. She said he was ruining her vacation and was a horrible child. It was so moving that I remember it to this day. I'm sure that everyone else who heard it was moved, too. I am also sure that she was exhausted and in emotional pain. Maybe she was not having a good day.

But to raise her tempo to that level where everyone could see and hear what she was doing created memories for that little boy. In his lifetime, she may have told him 10,000 times how much she loved him and how precious he was to her. But those words at Cape Canaveral could have taken away all those other 10,000 words.

Our words are powerful.

With our words, we can entice another to fall in love with us, especially if those words are meaningful and true. At the same time, our words can instantly destroy a relationship. Our words are powerful. It's amazing how we can say so many good and even neutral things, but in one night, one drunken stupor, our whole world can change.

So, why do words have to hurt?

Sometimes it is intentional. We want to hurt others, especially if we feel that they have hurt us. We want to use our words to do that. There is a television series called The Crown, which exposes the lives of Queen Elizabeth and the British monarchy. At the time of this post's publication, 10 new episodes have come out. These episodes are about the relationship between Prince Charles and Princess Diana. Though I enjoy the series and find it illuminating, and I know it's not 100 percent accurate, the derogatory interactions between Prince Charles and Lady Diana made me cry.

Because our words are powerful—they can heal, but they can also hurt.

Social media has a huge impact on people. When social media first became prevalent where I live, the high school that is closest to my home had two suicides in one year. Because these guys got a barrage of cruel words sent to them, they decided that it was so painful that they took their own lives. I can't even tell you the number of people with whom I've worked as a clinical psychologist that has come to me in severe emotional pain because of words from social media.

Do we want to use our words to hurt others?

Perhaps we want to use our words to love others and be kind to them. Each day, we have that choice. Every word we say or write, of understanding or hatred, matters. People listen. They read these words, they feel them, and it causes them great suffering or great joy. We have a choice to make, but sadly, through anonymity, we are freer with our tongues.

We say what's on our minds and write about people we don't like on social media. And we think it doesn't matter, or they probably don't even read it. We may think we're being funny.

But what if they do read it?

The people I work with, who are somewhat famous, read words like this, which hurt them. Do we really want to hurt people? And you may think, "Yes, I do hate them and want to say these words to their face."

But I want to tell you something that may help you reconsider.

I believe that people are doing their best. They may be struggling, but given their background and what happened to them, they are doing their best. Again, they may seem to be doing awful. There are consequences when we make bad choices. There is karma. At the same time, are we the judge or jury? Do we know everything about them and every aspect of their lives so we can freely judge them? Is that our role?

And another reason we may need to reconsider judging others is that it will not make us happy. I worked with a man who used to do that. He used to send scathing comments to people anonymously. And I realized he was one of the most unhappy people I'd ever met. To create happiness in your life, the path is not to use negative words like that. That is a path of suffering.

If you know someone who consistently uses hateful words—not someone who does it occasionally because they make a mistake, but someone that goes out of their way to hurt people—they are probably not very happy. Would you want to be them?

Our words can also be beautiful.

Words can be uplifting and helpful. I love sharing positive things with people. I sometimes go out of my way to say nice words. It's like giving flowers. Of course, I am careful that these words are not misinterpreted. I make sure they understand the reason I am sharing kind words. I share uplifting and positive words with them because I see good things in them. I see something beautiful and lovely.

Here's a secret: I cannot tell you the number of times I get told, "Wow, you just made my day or my week. Thank you!"

Again, you must be careful with sharing good words. Sometimes they can be misunderstood, or people just won't receive them. I am careful to share them with people I trust who wouldn't mind having a kind word or two. I wouldn't go up to an old curmudgeon and say, "Hey, guy, how are you?" They would get upset.

We can really make people's day better with powerful words. Telling people that we love them and we're thankful for them can improve their day and ours as well.

The hard part is doing it!

So, how do we start saying more kind things and less hurtful things? The best thing to do when we want to say something hurtful is to remain quiet. If we want to say something negative, we shouldn't say anything at all but instead, remove ourselves from the situation.

Yes, we do need to talk about things, particularly with important people in our lives, when there are challenges. But we shouldn't do this when we are upset, angry, or hurt, especially if we are on any substances, like alcohol. We should pause, give it some time, and ask ourselves, "Now, what do I need to talk to this person about?" It's good to talk to people and work through issues in a kind way.

Acknowledge that our words are powerful.

When we realize this, we should learn what words are necessary. Even if someone is saying hurtful things to you, is it necessary to say something back to them? Sometimes it's better just to remove yourself from the situation. Do you want to punch back verbally?

Acknowledge words are powerful, and then choose how to engage with others. We cannot control what others say or do to us, but we can learn to respond in loving ways. Also, on social media, imagine that whatever we write will indeed be read by that person. Do they really want to hear negative words from us? We should be careful on social media because people do read our words. It is not our goal in life to hurt others. That's a path of unhappiness.

Words are important in your head.

The words that we hear about ourselves all day long are important, too. While we can say a word to hurt someone and destroy a relationship, we can say thousands of things to ourselves and remain on a path of suffering. To truly understand how powerful words are, we must acknowledge what we are saying to ourselves. What are we hearing all day long?

When we walk by the mirror, do we insult ourselves? When we forget something, do we degrade ourselves for that mistake? Words matter, but we must understand what they are. What is our internal dialogue? Are we critical of others in our thoughts, or are we more critical of ourselves?

Even if no one hears our thoughts, they are important, and they can turn into words. So, it's important to find things to say to yourself that are kind and loving. When you do something wrong, ask yourself, "What can I learn from that mistake?"

When we are kind to ourselves and to others, that is the path to happiness.

May we all realize the power of our words and use them wisely.

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