Your Words Matter
We grew up chanting, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me!” Well, that was a lie. Words can hurt like hell. Have you ever been told, “I don’t love you anymore”? That hurts. Have you even been told you aren’t good enough, smart enough, pretty enough, thin enough? Those hurt, too. Words have meaning and impact, power and consequence. Once spoken, they are forever a part of your history. There is a proverb I heard once that has stuck with me:
I heard it on a day-time talk show by chance, quite some time ago. One of the hosts had said something offensive and in her apology, she used a portion of this proverb and for whatever reason, it stuck with me. Maybe because I had used my words recklessly recently, and needed to hear that. The universe, through this talk show host, was sending me a message, you ask? Well, yes. I’ve told you before, I believe in signs. I ask for them, too. So, in answer to last night’s request for what to write next, I awoke this morning with those words in my head. So, here we are.
When We Use Reckless Words
I remember my father getting very angry with me when I was a young girl, maybe ten or so, for reasons I didn’t understand until I was older. My brother and I had gotten into one of our typical sibling spats over God knows what. As usual, he was winning. In my frustration, and with an inability to articulate feelings, I blurted out, ‘Shut up, you faggot!’ By the look on my brother’s face, I knew immediately I’d said something bad. I didn’t know what that word meant; I’d just heard it on they playground from the older kids. My father, who was directly behind me, hissed out, ‘What did you say?’ I muttered and shrugged, I honestly didn’t know what I said. “You don’t know what you said? Then why did you say it?‘ he continued, not waiting for a response, ‘Don’t use words that you don’t know the meaning of. And I don’t ever want to hear you use THAT word again. Do you understand?‘ I nodded, even though, no, I did not, in fact understand. It was clear, though, that I was meant to keep my lips zipped; questions would not be taken at this time.
To the best of my knowledge, my brother was not hurt by my choice of words, and was in fact delighted that I’d said something to get myself in trouble and embarrassed. Here’s what I didn’t know: my uncle, which was my father’s brother, was gay. Back then, no one spoke of it; it was a topic off limits and the adults pretended it wasn’t ‘a thing’ and the kids certainly didn’t know. Though my father didn’t understand his brother, he loved him. That was his way of defending him, even if indirectly. Were it a different time, say 2017, it would have been a teachable moment and all of that would have been explained to me (maybe), but it was 1970-something, and children needed to just do what they were told, period.
So even though my father did not use the moment in the way we maybe would now, he did give me a powerful lesson when he said,
Don’t use words that you don’t know the meaning of.
So, I don’t. Inadvertently, my father was probably the one who most instilled the value of the words in me. As a Cuban immigrant with a last name that is the Hispanic equivalent to Smith, paired with a strong accent, he was extremely conscious of his vernacular. He was/is always very careful and concise with his speech; he says exactly what he means at all times. Often at a snails pace, as he considers the weight and balance of each… and every…single…word. I tease (but true).
When We Receive Reckless Words
Yes, receive. Try as we may to live the ‘sticks and stones’ mantra, it just doesn’t work quite so easily. I grew up with unrecognized ADD (in girls often manifests differently than in boys. Read HERE for info). I was labeled:
Sigh. Reckless, reckless words. I have an old ex boyfriend who had a habit of talking to me in a rather demeaning way, but he’d always act like he was ‘just kidding’. He was technically a good heart-ed guy, but his insecurities had a way of flipping a switch in his brain. I genuinely understood this about him, and excused it. (We could go into a whole psychology dialog on that, particularly based on the above, but let’s not). I suppose that today, we’d call him ‘verbally abusive‘. Back then he was just a jerk. So, Just Jerk (JJ henceforth) would have some zingers on repeat, so much so that I unconsciously adopted them into my already reckless-word-loaded psyche:
You’ll never finish that project.
You must be an idiot to think that.
Don’t talk, you’ll just embarrass yourself.
Ugh. Those all became my mantras. Reckless words spoken by reckless people, received by a naive young girl. For a little while. Fortunately for me, there was a lion inside of me that kept wanting to roar. So that little lion began pacing the cage until one day she smashed through the gate with all of her pent up frustration. You see, that lion loved to read; loved words. She read books with heroines and heroes, princes and warriors, and they used magical, marvelous words. Words like:
Those words have great power, too. Those words heal wounds and soften scars. They build up instead of tear down. They empower. I love those words as if they are dear friends… because they are. Words spoken recklessly must not be allowed to take residency in your head, make no space for them. Drown them with words of value until those are the only words you hear. Speak the words you wish to hear to others. Use healing words.
One of my many mantras is this: “I choose. I choose which words I will receive and which I will not. I choose which words I will use, which kind of word-user I will be. I choose to be a healer with my words. I reject the urge to bite back or be baited and I remove people from my life who live that way. I surround my space with positive speakers.” Never allow yourself to forget: words have great power, and:
With great power comes great responsibility.
Use them wisely.
About Modern Melly, aka Melanie Cherniack: Melanie a a published author to nine children’s books, as well as two novels, all available through her website modernmelly.com/shop. Melanie is also the founder and designer of the #goodhuman brand, selling empowering, uplifting and inspiring merchandise which benefits numerous charities. Visit igoodhuman.com for more. She is available for book signing events as well as speaking engagements. To book an event email Melanie at firstname.lastname@example.org. Find Melly on Facebook HERE and on Twitter HERE.