What words are you using, and what are they doing?

Do you ever think about words? I do. I’m not meaning the specific words you heard throughout the day, but words in general. Who came up with the words we say? Why did somebody decide to call sand, sand? Why do we say we “walk” and not something like we “nolup” instead? It just seems incredible to me that a series of sounds strung together can suddenly mean something to us. And then you start thinking of all the different languages and how they came to use the words they do, and how it can mean nothing to someone who is unfamiliar with it. I love studying different languages, though I am terrible at actually learning them.

Now you take those words—each little series of sounds that creates something with meaning—and string them together to form an idea. One word alone doesn’t usually do much, but several put together the right way can be incredibly powerful. I’m not the first person who has noticed this. Most everybody has probably heard the phrase “The pen is mightier than the sword,” thrown around, but it isn’t simply a nice saying. Think about it. One person with a sword might be able to control a few people—a dozen, two dozen, perhaps a few more, depending on how strong those they are attempting to control are—but a person with the right words can influence thousands, if not millions.

I love the way Yehuda Berg speaks of words. He says, “Words are singularly the most powerful force available to humanity. We can choose to use this force constructively with words of encouragement, or destructively by using words of despair. Words have energy and power with the ability to help, to heal, to hinder, to hurt, to harm, to humiliate and to humble.” Confucius has also been said to observe, “Without knowing the force of words, it is impossible to know more.”

Words may be more powerful than the sword, but they are a two-edged sword. While they can do much good, they can also do a world of damage. I’ve read a lot of words over time, but right now, there are so many words I’ve been reading that have been negative, hurtful, and divisive. It tears friendships apart, creates anger, and leaves a sour taste. My heart seems to bleed a little each time I read one person attacking another. Even if something must be said, the choice of words can make all the difference between simply stirring the pot of anger and hate, or causing reflection and change. And I also believe words affect the person saying or writing them as much, if not more than those around them. There are so many quotes cautioning us on the effects of words.

“Words are like eggs dropped from great heights; you can no more call them back than ignore the mess they leave when they fall.” – Jodi Picoult

“…the human tongue is a beast that few can master. It strains constantly to break out of its cage, and if it is not tamed, it will turn wild and cause you grief.” —Robert Grene

“Don’t mix bad words with your bad mood. You’ll have many opportunities to change a mood, but you’ll never get the opportunity to replace the words you spoke.” —Unknown

“Words are seeds that do more than blow around.
They land in our hearts and not the ground.
Be careful what you plant and careful what you say.
You might have to eat what you planted one day.” —Unknown

“If we understood the power of our thoughts, we would guard them more closely. If we understood the awesome power of our words, we would prefer silence to almost anything negative. In our thoughts and words, we create our own weaknesses and our own strengths. Our limitations and joys begin in our hearts. We can always replace negative with positive.” —Betty Eadie

To be quite fair, I have also read many beautiful words that lift, inspire, encourage, and bring peace in the last little while. They are beautiful. They bring a breath of fresh air, and to be quite honest, they are much more likely to sway my heart and thoughts than ugly, mean words. They are truly just as powerful, maybe more so. Blaise Pascal said, “Kind words do not cost much. Yet they accomplish much.” I believe it is true.

As a writer, I use words a lot. In fact, words are the life blood for what I do. Without words, I couldn’t do anything. At times I am a bit awed by the power I can wield. I want to choose my words carefully. I can build people up, or I can tear people down. I can invoke feelings of either love or hate. I can bring attention to both the positive and the negative. I can summon visions of great beauty or filth. I choose to focus on the good. I want to build. I want to bring love. I want to focus on the positive, and I want to paint mental images of beauty. If Hamza Yusuf is speaking the truth when she says, “Don’t ever diminish the power of words. Words move hearts and hearts move limbs,” I want to move people toward these things. If I could influence people’s actions to be the very best person they could be, think how it could change the world for them and others around them.

How have your words influenced those around you? What will you do to make the world a better place with your words?

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