The Power of Words

written by Laolu Ogundele 

 I’m sure we’ve all heard the statement, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Isn’t that a most controversial viewpoint – one that makes you wonder if the originator was a verbal abuse victim in denial? Think about it. Think about everyday life. Words would never hurt you… Really? How many people have been imprisoned because of a false accusation? Think about Joel in middle school, who called you cucumber face, or Sarah, who told the class that your breath stinks. How many children have spiraled into depression following cutting remarks from bullying classmates? How many political ambitions have been ruined by carefully orchestrated rumors? How many wars have resulted from inflammatory words? And the list goes on and on. Clearly, something is not adding up. And if you still claim that you’re immune to nasty comments, I’d love to invite you to a cup of coffee with my insolent ex-boss. Let’s see how you cope with that! 

 What’s my big point? THIS —> Words have not only ‘some’ but a lot of power – and we are about to examine that in this blog post! But before we do that, answer the simple question, “what are words”? How would you define them? If you frowned and said to yourself: “well, words are… just erm… words”, as you scratch your head to think of an answer, I wouldn’t blame you. After all, we don’t think of the definition of terms in everyday life; we use them! 

So, what are they? 

  • To a linguist, a word is a minor sequence of phonemes that can be pronounced in isolation while making objective and subjective sense to a potential hearer. 
  • To a scientist, on the other hand, words are simply sound waves traveling through the air and striking our eardrums or a series of symbols or letters on paper that convey an essential meaning. 
  • To a therapist, words are medicines. 
  • To a poet or writer, words are conveyors of emotion and drivers of stories. 

 As in the proverbial “blind men and the elephant” scenario, each person mentioned above is correct in their description, even if the truth is probably more profound than any of them realize. In many ways, words carry an almost metaphysical kind of power. We are daily inundated with words – the good, the bad, the ugly, the frivolous, and the entertaining, but I’ll wager that no uttered or written word is empty of meaning and significance. In fact, I’d go much further to say that words are perhaps the most potent force available to humankind, even more so than actions. 

Who hasn’t shed a tear after listening to a powerful rallying speech or an erring partner sincerely begging for forgiveness? 

 History is replete with stories of multitudes who were mobilized for both good and evil by the force of the words of a gifted orator. I still remember being misty-eyed after watching William Wallace’s final Freedom battle speech in the movie Braveheart. If I had my sword, I probably would have drawn it and raced down the battlefield screaming “For Scotland,” as well. Yes, I knew it was a work of fiction loosely based on a true story, but the speech still profoundly affected me. It didn’t matter that it was an old movie, set in an even older timeline, that I was watching through a television screen! 

 If words are that powerful, how should we handle them? Are we doing enough as humans to be accountable with our words? If you are a parent, how are you speaking to your children? Do your words bring shame, or are they full of encouragement and positivity? The latest scientific research shows a strong link between our language and children’s cognitive development. Words spoken with care and affection can empower us, positively shape our worldview, and make us see life differently. And this extends to children and adults alike. 

 How about words encountered on social media? Some studies prove that the average social media user is confronted with 285 pieces of content daily. That’s staggering, especially when one realizes that that amount of content equates to over 50 000 words! Those are 50 000 words that could be a force for good or evil, and in such a poorly regulated community as the digital world, it’s anyone’s guess what you might get on any given day spent surfing the internet… 

 Whether we admit it or not, we’re being influenced (daily) by the words we encounter. If they’re consistently leaving us empty, uninspired, or devoid of energy, it may be time to change our circle or log out – just make sure you’re not logging out of this blog. We have nothing but positivity for you! 😉😀 

All jokes aside, we must be vigilant about the words we hear and read. However, I firmly believe that safeguarding the words we hear is only half of our duties. It is not enough to shield ourselves from toxic, negative language; we should also strive to be good custodians of the gift of words. I think we’d choose each expression carefully if we knew how powerful our phrases could be. 

 We would do this by using our words as bolsters for building up and empowering, as opposed to anvils for crushing. We would spontaneously brighten people’s days with compliments and offer love and compassion to those who may be “down.”

In a world full of internet savages, Facebook trolls, street bullies, don’t we need more people who understand the preciousness of uplifting messages? We sure do! As the saying goes, “talk is cheap,” but it doesn’t necessarily have to be. Yours can be carefully chosen, dignified, kind, and informative. ☝️🙃

Next post – On Anger