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To speak of “mere words” is like speaking of “mere dynamite” (C.J. Ducasse –American philosopher, 1881-1969)
Those reading this blog are most probably parents and/or teachers. Let’s be honest. If you fall into this category, it is inevitable that you have ‘lost it’ with a child, unless you are superhuman. Angry words have been uttered in the heat of the moment.
There are many memes doing the round based on the power of words. One very appropriate one states “Words hurt more than anything else can, because they last, sometimes forever.” I am sure that when you think back to your own childhood, there were things said which have the power to hurt you to this day. This is where I want to speak to teachers and parents. One way of ensuring that you never speak cruel, unkind words, is to remember those words which hurt you. Keep in mind that words hurt more than hands do. Another appropriate meme states, “A tongue has no bones, but it can break a heart.”
I know a young man, attractive, well built, a talented sportsman, intelligent, but with a very sensitive nature. From a young lad, he was afraid of failure, afraid that he would be criticised, afraid that people did not like him. If he had been lovingly encouraged with words of kindness and acceptance, I am positive that his story would have turned out differently. Unfortunately, he has a father who is a bully by nature. The only time he received any affirmation from his father was when he was succeeding in some endeavour. He had to perform at the highest level to be accepted. The minute he lost focus and faltered, his father would lash out at him and verbally abuse him, calling him a nogood failure, a useless person who would never amount to anything, and berated him for being ungrateful.
His self-worth has been defined by the belief that he is useless. At the age of 40, he is in an institution, suffering from a complete mental breakdown. He has never been able to sustain a relationship with a woman, as he cannot trust anyone. He cannot believe that anyone could actually care about him. He fails at every employment because of his belief that he is unable to perform satisfactorily, and that he is incapable. He needed to be affirmed. He needed to know he was accepted. Instead he was criticized and basically broken as a human being by the very person who should have been uplifting him. L.R. Knost (author and social justice activist) rightly states: “The fact is that hurting people hurt people, and children raised with condemnation in whatever form it takes are hurting people. Period. Words matter.”
I believe the father thought that by being so tough on his talented son, he would be inspiring him to do better. Using derogatory words would spur him on to work harder and achieve more. There may be people who respond to this kind of treatment by perceiving it as a challenge, the feeling of “I’ll show him that his opinion of me is wrong”, but it is a dangerous methodology to apply. Youngsters are so very vulnerable, so easily hurt and damaged, so easily broken in mind and spirit, that it should never be an option.
L.R. Krost also states: “It’s not our job to toughen our children up to face a cruel and heartless world. It’s our job to raise children who will make the world a little less cruel and heartless.”
Never will cruel, heartless words be a way of disciplining children effectively. There is a verse in the Bible which states: “Be angry but do not sin.” I presume theologians will have many theories about the meaning of these words. I believe, however, that harsh, hurtful words are wicked – a sin, whether the word “sin” features in our vocabulary or not. Never resort to character slaying or prophesying negativity over any child in your care, be it a student or your own child.
It is a sin to do that. And just because you do not mean what you say in the heat of the moment doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt the person in a manner that could have eternal repercussions in that person’s life. Yes, as parents and teachers we must and most probably will get angry. Children need to know there are perimeters and deal breakers. Any parent or teacher who allow those in his or her care to break rules as they choose, to act disrespectfully or to be deliberately and knowingly disobedient, is guilty of gross negligence and laziness. That’s the easy way out. Allowing children to grow up without any responsibility and sense of achievement does them no favours.
In fact, they will most probably struggle through life not knowing why they cannot adapt and succeed in life. But when a child commits a deed that necessitates anger, that anger should never include mean, derogatory, hurtful words. Anger does not imply that one loses one’s temper. Anger is when one confronts and addresses unacceptable behaviour in a rational manner. Anger never gives one the right to be negative about the child’s character or to prophesize a future life of uselessness. Never should words such as “You will never amount to anything” cross one’s lips. The behaviour only should be addressed. The person must not be condemned. The misdemeanour must never define the person’s character.
The following words by Betty Eadie, an American author contain very good advice on how to guard one’s words: “If we understood the power of our thoughts, we would guard them more closely. If we understood the awesome power of our words, we would prefer silence to almost anything negative. In our thoughts and words, we create our own weaknesses and our own strengths. Our limitations and joys begin in our hearts. We can always replace negative with positive.” So let us go to the flip side. George Herbert (English poet and author) said: “Good words are worth much and cost little.”
“Words satisfy the soul as food satisfies the stomach; the right words on a person’s lips bring satisfaction,” said Solomon, who is considered by many as the wisest person who ever lived. The question arises: how do we learn to guard our words? We, as adults, as teachers, as parents, need to fill our hearts, our minds, whichever one you prefer, with positive thoughts. We need to take note of the beauty around us, and basically count our blessings. We need to speak words of encouragement over ourselves. We need to wake up every morning and make a habit of greeting the new day as a gift.
One of the laws of physics is the law of thermodynamics. The most basic definition of this law is that everything in the universe eventually moves from order to disorder. We all understand the law of thermodynamics at this basic level. Think of your wardrobe. How do those shoes get into that dreadful muddle?
The reason I am mentioning this law is that our minds and our thoughts and our attitudes are also subject to that law. It is so difficult to put our thoughts in order. It is so easy to be negative and find fault. Before we know it, we are joining in with those who are always whinging and whining. That is disorder.
Order is when we deliberately choose to be grateful, positive, patient, kind, generous, forgiving, gracious, courteous. Add your own words.
If your thoughts are in order, you will automatically order your words.
It is so tragic when words spoken by adults with untidy, disordered minds and hearts forget that the next generation is contaminated, sometimes beyond repair, by those words.
But if we speak words of life, hope and encouragement to and over these precious youngsters, the results will be valuable beyond measure. Words can inspire. And words can destroy. Choose yours well. Every word you speak has the power to hurt or heal. One kind word can change someone’s entire day.
The following quote by Tony Robbins (American author and life coach) summarises the power of words very effectively: “Throughout human history, our greatest leaders and thinkers have used the power of words to transform our emotions, to enlist us in their causes and to shape the course of destiny. Words cannot only create emotions; they create actions. And from actions flow the results of our lives.”