Words Matter

Yesterday, I was thinking about how people talk to each other. Sometimes, I like to just observe conversations between people that I happen to be a part of and take in what is being said. This can be in work or social environments and the conversations I hear are often fascinating. It is an opportunity to learn new things, observe human behavior and see what drives people to say the things they sometimes say. Once in a while what I hear isn’t all that pleasant. That got me to thinking.

When we are taking the opportunity to say what is ever in our head, sometimes unfiltered, are we really taking the time to understand that the words we may be uttering may have unintended consequences on the person on the receiving end? Things we say that may make us feel better because we are “getting it off our chest” may very well be having a profound effect on the receiving person without us even realizing it. This is especially important for consideration when speaking to younger generations who are still learning the art of conversation and deriving meaning from what they are hearing. Here is an example.

When I was in high school I was in speech and debate. I decided that I wanted to enter the American Legion Oratorical contest. I spent hours with my grandmother practicing my speech over and over. There were two parts to the contest. I had to have a memorized speech (the hardest for me) and then they would draw a topic to also give an off the cuff extemporaneous speech on that topic. I loved public speaking. I went on to win the local, district and regional contests. Then came the state competition. I practiced harder than I ever had and wound up placing second in the state.

They had a lunch for all the attendees after the competition and as we were sitting there waiting for our food we were approached by our local chapter president. I assumed he was coming up to congratulate me for placing second and representing our town well. Unfortunately, it was quite the opposite. I remember his words like they were yesterday. He said, “We were all really counting on you. It is too bad you let us all down”. I still get chills when I remember that moment. You see, I can remember that moment like it is happening today. But I can’t remember any other moment through all my other competitions where people came up and congratulated me, even though there were many. Words matter.

How often is it that words come out of our mouth before our brain realizes what we had just said? Once they are uttered, we can’t take them back. Although they may often be taken out of context from what we really meant, once they have been said what ever impact they are going to have is already done.

While I believe we all have a responsibility to share, enlighten, teach and help people grow, we also have a responsibility to be caring, compassionate, loving and kind. Making others feel worse so that we can feel better serves no purpose in the long run and the impact we may be creating may be just the opposite of what we intend. In the end, it is what we say and how we say it. In the end, words matter.

Have a great day and remember to be the reason someone smiles today!


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