Thursday, January 29, 2004

The Power of Words

“Pleasant words are as honey, sweet to the soul and health to the bones.”
~ Proverbs 16:24

I watched him take the two strike call:
He hadn't tried to swing at all.
I guess he'd had all that he could take,
He walked away, for goodness sake.
His father's voice was loud an' mean:
"You won't amount to anything."

That little boy quit tryin',
He just walked away.
There were teardrops on his face.

Tell me, how would you feel?
You'd probably give up too,
If nobody believed in you.
“If Nobody Believe in You”

~ recorded by Joe Nichols

“Sticks and stones, may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.”

Not! Words can hurt – and do hurt! And they leave lasting scars, too. The English author and clergyman, Robert Burton once said, “A blow with a word strikes deeper than a blow with a sword.”

I am a firm believer in the power of words – those we speak to others and those we speak to ourselves. Joyce Meyer says that words are containers for power; they carry either creative or destructive power.

When Keen and I got married, a friend of ours made us a mirror with the above Bible verse etched into the glass. We still have it hanging in our home. It makes me wonder, if pleasant words are health to the bones, then what are negative words? I truly believe that negative, critical words have the opposite affect and are detrimental to the emotional and physical well being of the hearer.

“Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the
wise brings healing.”

~ Proverbs 12:18

My sister’s former husband was admired and beloved by everyone at work because he was always so charming to them. Mr. Wonderful. But when he got home to his wife and kids, it was an entirely different situation. A marriage counselor once told my sister that she needed to “teach” her husband how to act nicely. But I pointed out that he obviously knew how to act nicely because he didn’t treat anyone at work the way he treated her! The words we speak and the way we act are a personal choice.

They say “hurting people, hurt people”, but that’s no excuse to take our frustrations out on those around us. Words that belittle and humiliate can wreak havoc on one’s self image.

“Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and they who indulge it shall eat the fruit of it (for death or life).”
~ Proverbs 18:21

The damage caused by negative, critical words reminds me of the devastation caused by fire or war. The definition of devastation is to “lay waste; to reduce to chaos, disorder or helplessness; to cause great damage.” Everything in its path is destroyed and the rebuilding process can take years.

“Every word you speak boosts someone’s hope a bit, or kills it just a little.”
~ John Ortberg

I’ve been thinking about writing this column for quite some time, but after reading the letter to the editor from Lana G. Allen in The Prairie Post two weeks ago, I was inspired to put my thoughts into words.

I couldn’t agree with Ms. Allen more. I, too, have often been shocked by the behavior of coaches (and parents) during sporting events. Sports is a great form of entertainment for the players and fans alike, but it is not a matter of life and death, as some people make it out to be. It’s an opportunity for our children to learn how to work as a team, give 110%, and how to show dignity in both victory and defeat. But to watch some coaches sacrifice a child’s self esteem on the alter of a football field or basketball court is indeed disturbing. Much to my dismay, I have heard parents humiliate their children by calling them demeaning names from the stands. I’ve heard coaches tell their football players that they are wimps who should put on cheerleading uniforms. I have never understood how they could possibly think that this type of rhetoric would ever inspire anyone.

We’re building up or tearing down, in everything we do;
Are you on the construction gang, or on the wrecking crew?

~ Anonymous

I would also like to commend Ms. Allen for having the courage to express her opinions on this very delicate subject. Most of us are reluctant to confront a coach for fear that he/she will take it out on our child. So, year after year, the players are subjected to the irrational tirades of an out-of-control coach simply because no one has the guts to tell them that their coaching practices are unprofessional and damaging to the kids.

Recently, one of the children my sister works with came to school with the word “Loser” written in ink on her forehead. My sister was appalled and immediately reported it to the school counselor. She tried her best to convince the little girl that it was not true, but the little girl replied, “Yes it is. My mommy calls me that all the time.” Now, who in their right mind would call their child a “loser,” much less brand it on their forehead?

"Self esteem in children hinges on nearly every word uttered by significant adults in their lives. Children watch how adults look at them....they draw conclusions from adult’s reactions to them and treat these conclusions as truths."
Dr. Louise Hart, Psychologist and Author of The Winning Family: Increasing Self-Esteem in Your Children and Yourself.

In closing, I’d like to share a poem written by Lester Gale Rogers from Effingham, Kansas. Gale is a published writer and frequent contributor to Reader’s Poetry in the Kansas-Plus section of The Topeka Capital-Journal. He is also a new friend.

By Lester Gale Rogers

As early morning light
pushes hard to break the night.

Moments past come to me
and clearly they I do see.

Wishing some I might regain
to replace a word or refrain.

They haunt me, these words lost
as now alone I pay the cost.

“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord…my Rock and my Redeemer.”
~ Psalm 19:14