Stop. Think. Speak.

Guest post by Benjamin Jeffers:

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can crush me.

That message was clearly presented to me several years ago in Spain. I had traveled there as part of a study abroad program. And while in a small church in the town of Petrel, a missionary came up and asked, “¿Qué tal tu español?” (How’s your Spanish going?)

A simple question, really. Yet my mind blanked. No response came from my mouth. “You just told me everything I need to know,” the man said in English.

Feeling a little sheepish, I turned to walk away when his wife hit me with “I thought you needed to know Spanish to go on this trip.” Her comment left me reeling. It smacked me in the gut harder than any physical punch could.

“Am I really so inept that I can’t even answer a simple question?” was one of the thoughts racing through my head.

Suddenly, Spain felt like a cage instead of an opportunity to learn a new culture. Suddenly, all that I had learned seemed pointless. Suddenly, an off-the-cuff remark shattered my confidence and left me defeated. It was one little comment, but to a college student struggling in a foreign culture, it came crashing down like a sledgehammer.

That day I learned how damaging words can really be.

We readily acknowledge the effect of words on children and teens. We see the little boy always sitting alone on the playground, hurt by other kids’ cruel taunts. We see the teenage girl heading toward lifelong depression after one asinine fat joke from someone else.

But we often fail to recognize that words have just as much effect on adults. After all, we’ve matured to the point where we are confident in who we are, right? If only we could easily ignore what other people say. But sadly, negative words still hold just as much power now as when we were in elementary school.

Words can destroy a marriage. Words can end business relationships. Words can even lead a nation into ruin.

As an extreme example of the last point, look at what Hitler did. Through his words he led Germany to believe in the superiority of one race, take on the world and slaughter millions of Jews. He needed little more than a microphone and his mouth.

Again, he’s an extreme example, but he illustrates the potential power that words have. However, as destructive as words sometimes are, they also have the potential to heal.

This message was also clearly presented to me in Spain. The same week the lady said the comment that left me discouraged, my Spanish teacher offered me comfort.

One afternoon as we walked along a busy street, she asked me how I felt. I explained my concerns about not knowing the language and she listened.

Not only did she listen, but she also offered words of encouragement. She explained how she was seeing progression in my understanding and that I comprehended more than I originally thought. Her words helped.

She may never know the impact she had, but that teacher turned what looked like a hopeless situation into something enjoyable again.

The way she used her words contrasted with how the other lady used hers. And both these women helped me discover a truth I will never forget: Words will always affect someone.

No matter what we say, someone will be impacted. Will it be negatively or positively?

ThoughtsTimothy Buck