Words. They’re tricky little things, aren’t they? As a writer, they’re the very tools I use every day to make a living and to express myself. As a human, they allow me to communicate with others. As a woman, they’re the reason I can chit-chat with friends over cappuccinos and chocolate.
But too often we underestimate the power of our words.
Case in point: Yesterday I ran into a fellow writer at an event and we got to chit-chatting as women do. She mentioned that she read my blog. Flattered, I thanked her. And then she said, “It’s cute.”
My throat did that thing where it closes up and I forget to breathe.
Cute? Like a toddler? Like a puppy? Like a boy I like? So, what you’re saying is… this writing that I pour my heart and soul into, that I spend hours and hours rewriting, editing and perfecting, is cute?
Ouch. I never realized how one little word could cut so deep. It got me thinking about other words that can transform into daggers when used in a specific, calculated way.
You’re in a relationship, head over heels in love, and a friend says, “He just doesn’t seem like the kind of guy you’d normally go for.” (Translation: You’re desperate.)
You’re getting ready for an event, and your husband says, “Is that what you’re going to wear?” (Translation: You don’t look good in that outfit.)
You’re watching your weight, and while eating out your sister says, “Don’t you want a salad?” (Translation: You’re fat.)
You’re divorced and have recently found love again, and your mom says, “Are you sure this time?” (Translation: You made a mistake getting married the first time.)
You’re debating whether to return to work after having kids, and your dad says, “Why don’t you just stay home with your children?” (Translation: You’re a bad mom.)
You’re getting ready for another day at your commission-based sales job, and your wife says, “Hopefully today is better than yesterday for you, honey.” (Translation: Yesterday you failed.)
Little comments. A string of words that when used elsewhere might have a completely different meaning. But in this moment, in this setting, they hurt. They cut like a knife, past skin and bone, right to the heart.
I’m guilty of it. I’ve made little comments, often under my breath, sometimes out loud, maybe at the top of my lungs. The intent was to stir something in that other person, to make them feel belittled. And after I say those words, I always, without a doubt regret it. Always. Because, simply put, it’s just not how God intends us to use words.
I think it’s only when we discover the power that words possess that we can understand how to use them. I can choose to use my words to cut others down, or to lift others up. I can choose to verbalize every dirty, demeaning thought that comes into this evil head of mine, or I can just shut up once in a while.
Well, there’s a novel thought: Not everything we think needs to be spoken. If we could collectively learn to keep our mouths shut, there’d be a lot less regret and a lot less pain caused by our words being haphazardly thrown about.
I’m not mad at that writer who called my blog cute. It’s not what I wanted to hear and it’s not what I want this blog to be, but it is what it is. As a writer I am trained to take criticism, to hear loads of opinions and to accept red edits all over my work. But in life, not everyone has that thick, Jersey skin. In life, people feel. In your families, people feel. In your friendships, your marriage, your relationship, people feel.
So today I remind myself that words are just words. But the way we use them can transform them into powerful things that can break someone’s heart or put a heart back together. What kind of words will you use today?