Power of Words
My one-year-old grandson, Clyde, loves to sit in his high chair and work the adoring audience. He repeats the rhythm of everything we say. He grunts and squeals like the little monkey he is, and every week he is gathering English words and even a few that are Spanish. He says “Mama” and “Dada,” but in a group setting delights in saying, “All done.” Over and over again he announces “All done,” knowing he’ll receive an uproar of cheers and applause each time. He’s recently perfected “Hi,,” which has the same rewarding results—loud cheers, hugs, hoots. Never mind that he’s turning his hand palm inward and waving to himself. His words are rewarded over and over again.
The beloved and impactful children’s TV personality, Fred Rogers, spoke years ago about the most powerful and often-used words in all the world’s languages—“Thank you.” Our children hear these words from us even more than they hear “I love you,” and maybe that’s to the good. Our kids absorb most an “other-directed” phrase, instead of one all about ourselves.
Many of us want to hold to the idea that the “pen is mightier than the sword,” but with the endless acts of violence and brutality we can begin to think that the sword is prevailing. All of us, parents, teachers, writers, religious, political and other leaders, struggle with what we can say to affect improvement. Yet so many times we find ourselves lost for words when confronted with tragedy and irrationality.
As children and teens, we all experienced and witnessed the impact of insulting, bullying words—those emotional sticks and stones. Still I remember the power of positive words in my personal life, a teacher saying in response to an essay I’d written, “You have a knack, Sally.” I remember one of my best friend’s words in my hospital room, as I’d just learned my blindness was close to inevitable, “I wish this were happening to me instead, Sally.”
But I take heart even more in words that changed the landscape for large segments of our society: “Black is beautiful.” The inspiring theologian Howard Thurman said, ““Black is Beautiful” became not merely a phrase—it was a stance, a total attitude, a metaphysics.”
Those of us with disabilities often joke to you who are able-bodied, “You are TABs,” temporarily able-bodied. The wisdom of the humor tends to remind us all of our connection to each other, despite our differences. Words without actions can be empty, but, first, we have to form the words and believe in their power.