Words matter. They have power to hurt and they have the power to heal. We know this and yet children are often taught this saying: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.” While we may wish this were true, we know in reality that words can hurt. What we say matters. The words we use matter.
Words matter. In my religious tradition in our sacred stories we read about how God spoke the creation into being. The story begins with God saying, “Let there be light; and there was light.” And so it was with words like these that creation was brought to life. God’s first words in our sacred text are words about life.
Words matter. Words can be used to hurt. Words can be used to heal. Sometimes when I am talking with children about using kind words I illustrate my point using a tube of toothpaste. After squeezing all the toothpaste out of the tube onto a plate I ask if someone could put the toothpaste back in the tube. And of course after some laughter we come to the conclusion that we can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube after we have squeezed it all out. So it is with our words I tell them. Once words are out there, once they are spoken, we cannot put them back. It is important to speak words that are life-giving and love-filled.
Words matter. Please know that I am not advocating that we have to agree on all things? By no means. I do hope that when we disagree that we do so with words that are civil and respectful. I do hope we refrain from name calling when we find ourselves with opposing views and opinions. And I do hope that sometimes it will be more important to be kind than to be right.
Words matter. Let’s use the ones that are kind, and generous, and life-giving. Let’s build bridges with those whom we don’t know and those who may be different from us with words of friendship and generosity. Let’s use the power of words for the common good.
(Originally appeared in the Building Bridges Column of The Voice of Muscatine, October 24, 2016)