The power of words

A broken bone can heal, but the wound a word opens can fester forever.
Jessamyn West
1902 – 1984

I have some vivid memories from childhood. For instance, when someone would say something mean, insulting or hurtful to me, I’d go to Mother with tears running down my cheeks and look for comfort. And she would always say, “Go tell them that sticks and stones may break your bones, but words will never hurt you.”

I probably heard that saying hundreds of times, and I began using it as a retort when someone said something hurtful to me. I suppose it was a form of defense.

But there was a problem with my mother’s advice. Even though she was trying to help me cope, what she said wasn’t true. Granted, it was true in the literal sense: words don’t inflict physical harm. But words can and do harm the psyche.

A physical injury from sticks or stones will usually heal in days or weeks. Injuries inflicted by words have a much longer life. Sometimes they even follow us to our graves. And some words can bring on enough distress to affect our physical health as well.

Now here’s the really sad part about hurtful words: a person generally says them only once, but we keep those words alive in our minds, replaying them over and over. And if we hear something often enough, you know what happens? We start to believe it. The more we replay negative words in our minds, the more we’re influenced by those words. And eventually, we come to accept them as truth.

What’s the answer? Well, I could say that you just shouldn’t think about negative words. But that’s like me telling you not to worry; it does no good.

But there is something you can and should do. Instead of dwelling on the negative, make a conscious effort to focus on positive things. The mind can’t hold two conflicting thoughts at the same time. So you have to feed positive, reinforcing words to your mind, to push out the negatives.

This process doesn’t happen automatically; the natural tendency is to focus on negatives. So we must be pro-active. We need to consciously recognize positive accomplishments. We have to make a point to acknowledge the best of ourselves. Make it a habit each day to write down the good things you do. Constantly remind yourself of what you’ve achieved. The more you focus on the positive, the less opportunity there is for negative words to take root.

False words are not only evil in themselves, but they infect the soul with evil.
c. 428 – 348 B.C.

Copyright © 2021 John Chancellor

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