Our words reflect our own attitudes and shape how others see themselves. When we understand the power of our words, we are careful to choose those words that bring
light and life to others. We remember to speak with compassion so that our words do not crush the spirit. We choose words to build people up instead of tearing them down. We use our words to strengthen our relationships with one another.
I received a powerful reminder that we must be careful with our words a few years ago when I witnessed a dad and son together on a perfect summer morning. What I saw has stayed with me because of the careless words the dad said to his son.
We were on board a large tourist boat about to go whale and dolphin watching off the coast of New Jersey. From what I could see, the boy was acting like a perfectly normal eight year-old. That means his shoes were untied and he ran when an adult would have walked. He dawdled. He only grabbed a doughnut off the buffet for himself and for no one else. Of course he didn’t pick up napkins.
His dad criticized him for each one of these things.
I could picture them in 15 years estranged from each other. I pictured the son angry and full of self-doubt, and unable to speak about the reasons for his anger and doubt. I pictured the father in his old age, full of regret for the decades without his son.
I wanted to ask the dad, can you hear your own words? Can you see how every time you criticize him you take away just a little bit of his spirit? Can you remember what it is like to be only eight? Can you be careful with those words?
I wanted to go hug the boy and tell him that he wasn’t clumsy, messy, thoughtless or any of the words his father chose to describe who he was. I wanted to tell him that he is a wonderful eight year-old and that he was doing everything just as an eight year-old should. Most of all, I wanted to tell him that as long as he doesn’t listen to the never-ending stream of ill-chosen words from his dad, he’ll grow up to be a wonderful man.
“It is easier to build strong children
than to repair broken men.”
~ Frederick Douglass
I still cringe when I think about that dad and his son. I want to believe that dad loved his son and wanted the best for him. I want to believe he did not understand how even a little comment can affect another person. I want to believe that while the negative messages of his words rung loud and clear to me, he himself could not hear them. I want to believe he simply forgot to speak with kindness and concern.
The power of our words underscores the importance of choosing them carefully, so that the message we deliver beyond the words we say is the message we mean to deliver. When we forget our power, we forget to choose our words carefully.
Live Honest, Open and True
Our words are more powerful than anything. We can choose words that develop or destroy a person. When we build up one another, we reward ourselves with stronger relationships. The next time you need to correct another’s actions, remember to be careful with those words.