While it is true that sticks and stones can break your bones, it is not true that words can never hurt you. It has been proven many times in our lives that the words people say can have either a negative or positive impact on what we think, how we feel and what we do. The demeaning words of strangers may cause us to be less confident and question our abilities. The unkind words from friends and family can cause us to fall into hopelessness and despair. Words do hurt.
“Stab the body and it heals, but injure the heart and the wound lasts a lifetime.” – Mmeko Iwasaki
There are people walking around your job, your community, and in your home who have been wounded in their hearts. There’s a woman who was told she would not accomplish much of anything simply because she’s a woman. There’s a person of color that is stuck in his life because he was told that certain opportunities are not available for “people like us”. There are children whose hearts are being wounded every day by the harsh words of adults who haven’t healed from their own wounds. There are people who are misunderstood for being “different” and they are told that their differences aren’t acceptable and therefore not embraced.
Ask yourself these questions. Who gives us the authority and right to break others with our words? Who made our opinions facts? What right is it of anyone to be cruel, judgmental, and unkind? What makes what we say truth? Why is it that some of us choose to use our words to tear down and wound rather than to build up and heal?
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Here are some examples of things we say without thinking about their affects on others.
- What’s wrong with you? – When speaking about the way someone looks, please don’t ask this. It’s not only rude but it implies that there’s something wrong with someone and it can be damaging to their self-esteem. If someone has a disability and looks a little different than you do, let them know that they are valued, beautiful, funny, smart, etc. Use words that are uplifting instead of damaging.
- You’re so skinny. (Or fat, tall, short, etc.) – There are people who struggle to see their bodies in a positive light. So many women struggle with body image so discussing their appearance is a sensitive topic for them. It may be easier for you to either gain weight or lose it but there are some people who are fighting genetics. It’s just not that easy for them to either gain or lose weight so be encouraging or keep your opinions to yourself.
- When are you due? – I don’t think I have to explain this one. If a woman “looks” pregnant, please wait until you know for sure before asking this question. Most importantly, wait until she gives you permission to ask the question. If she is pregnant, once you engage in a conversation about her pregnancy, you will know whether or not the question is appropriate.
- I could just kill myself. – Suicide is real and it’s increasing every year. You never know who struggles with suicidal thoughts or have attempted to commit suicide. You never know who is battling these thoughts. Your words, if they are heard or read, can send them over their mental cliff. Also, never speak those words about yourself. You can acknowledge that you’re frustrated, disappointed, or upset but please not in this way.
- When will you start trying (to have kids)? – This may be a painful topic for someone who desires to have children. Some people don’t find the right partner, or they have experienced fertility issues, and they probably don’t want to discuss such things with a stranger or an acquaintance. For people who have chosen not to have children, this question could make them feel judged and no one wants to be judged.
- Why didn’t you go to college? – We don’t all have the same path in life and therefore, college is not a necessity to be successful. There are plenty of people without a college degree that are thriving in the lives they have created. Also, you don’t know if someone really wanted to go to college but their finances didn’t allow them too. You have no idea if someone has a learning disability that made the idea of college frightening.
Let’s be careful with our words but more importantly, let’s be intentional. Before we speak, we should absolutely think. I don’t believe that most of us speak to intentionally hurt someone, but not thinking about our words with intention can be hurtful. Let’s choose words that give life and that are inspirational. Words that will encourage people to do and be their very best.