The power of words

“Words hurt!!!”

A young friend made this comment the other day–and it’s so true. Words have tremendous power and can shape our lives in both positive and negative ways.

This young friend has struggled for many years with self-image. The struggle hasn’t been helped by comments by parents calling her “stupid” and unable to learn. She does have some learning challenges, but she is not stupid–she just hasn’t always been presented with opportunities to learn in ways that match her intelligence. She is finally gaining strength to begin the difficult work of changing this self-image–learning to listen to other voices that affirm rather than tear down.

Another friend has dealt with issues caused by years of abuse. There have been several suicide attempts, any one of which should have killed him, according to his doctors. The last time, his father told him that next time he should make sure he found a way that worked. Words hurt! Fortunately he has found a way to allow his life to be turned around, and he now mentors others who struggle with similar issues.

I remember one of the first times I showed my mother some of my writing. Her response was “That’s nice…” with the strong implication that there was no way I would ever be able to make a living with it–or with the career I had thought about following. I allowed those words (and others) to change my course and spent years wondering if I really had any abilities in the things I loved.

There are studies that show that it takes 10 positive comments to overcome the effects of 1 negative one. I’ve never counted, but I think for many of us, that gap is difficult to bridge–and the negative comments tend to put down roots deeply in our minds and souls.

There is a time and place for constructive criticism, for calling us to accountability. But more often, it seems that the adjective (“constructive”) is left off, and we criticize each other without being aware of the power of our words.

Proverbs 18:21 in the Bible says “The tongue has the power of life and death…”

There’s also another proverb I’ve heard: “Lord, make my words sweet, for tomorrow I may have to eat them.”

Both are good thoughts to live by.

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