Pandemics have a nasty habit of making us question things we take for granted. When life seems a whole lot more fragile, words become a lot more important. Don’t let the right ones get away.
Whether you’re speaker or listener, words matter. They can heal or hurt; inspire or humiliate, encourage, teach or comfort. They can be the tiebreaker in an argument; a deal breaker in a relationship. They can make someone feel important or diminished; deeply hurt or transformed with love. They can criticize, accuse, or malign. The can also soften a heart and change the trajectory of someone’s life. Words can change lives for worse or for better; or through their absence, leave a hole that is often never filled.
The give and take of words is all part of human speak. We ask work questions about marketing and quality control. We ask about freshness of the lettuce or what’s on sale that day. We ask our kids it they remembered to pack their homework and sneakers for gym as they run out the door. More often than not, we don’t give a whole lot of thought to the mundane exchanges we have every day. Yet, the power of our words is immeasurable.
You better know that in the end, it’s better to say too much
Than to never to say what you need to say again. John Mayer
There are people who never stop talking and who knows, I may be one of them. But, with all our talk, talk, talk, what is really said? We use hundreds of words every day – but how many cut to the chase of life? How many of us carve out that critical second to say the one thing that could transform a heart? In a world as uncertain, as volatile as we live today, we are all painfully aware of our human vulnerability. We are reminded each day, as we see numbers across the world tell the story of humans gone too suddenly, that life is not forever. Just as words we say in haste or anger form a destructive legacy that never be taken back, many that need to be said, that could change everything in someone’s world, are not. The time when they could be spoken is no longer and there is no better proof than the now 100,000 people who have gone forever. Words we wish to have said have disappeared into the ether.
There is no time to leave important words unsaid. Paulo Coelho
In my book, the most magic words in life are often the simplest, yet time slips by and what we meant to say disappears with it. Yet, words, those very words, can mean the world like:
Thank you. It always amazes me how little we acknowledge kindness and thoughtfulness. Sure we dole out automatic thank you’s like M&M’s, with no real thought. Now, I’m totally onboard with politeness, in any setting, but authentic, cognizant gratitude is the real deal. My mother always told me, if you don’t thank someone who sends you a gift, you don’t deserve it. Words on paper count, too. But as treasured as a call or thank-you note is, the heart behind the thank you makes all the difference. Don’t sell these words short. From a grocery checker to a child being thoughtful, these two little words say ‘I see you – and you matter.’
I’m sorry. Even if you did something you totally regret and would never do again, an ‘I’m sorry’ is the way to go. In fact, these two little words are some of the most important you can ever say. Apologizing never comes easy. In fact, when we are really pissed, (it happens) that ‘I’m sorry’ seems almost impossible. Said from the heart, though, it means we learned the hard way, that we realized we hurt someone and even if what we did won’t go down in history as Titanic sized, we are truly bummed it happened. Taking responsibility for our actions can go a long way to healing our relationships – and ourselves.
Forgive me. When we value a relationship, our greatest hope, when something goes wrong, is to repair it and restore it to its original condition. We should never take a person we cherish or their forgiveness for granted. Extending the proverbial olive branch with hope, not expectation, is a leap of faith. Acceptance is their gift to us, not an automatic expectation.
I love you. Don’t wait for the funeral or the door closing to tell people how you feel about them. Say it when it counts. Say it as often as it needs to be said or as often as you feel it. Say it before it’s too late. And people who grieve the 100,000 authentic, cherished people, claimed without warning by COVID-19, may always wonder, as I did when my own husband died suddenly, if “I love you” could have been said just one more time. No matter how many times “I love you” is said or even written, not one of us will ever say, “No more. I’m good thanks”.
Of course there are other important words that can make all the difference in your world and those around you. ‘Can I help?’. ‘I have your back’. ‘You matter.’ ‘I’m proud of you.’ Whatever you say, it’s also important to inventory your delivery. If words of apology, care or concern are delivered without thought, they mean no more if we read them from a teleprompter. (And I think we see enough of that. Yawn.)
I may forget the words you said but I’ll always remember how they made me feel.
One of the most important things we can teach our kids, is the power of words — and that we practice what we preach. I always objected to my father’s admonition that you never need to apologize to your kids. Why not? They are people, just shorter, faster and with less life experience but the life they do experience is what we show them. No parent sets out to hurt their child in any way but if, along the parenting highway, kids are hurt by what we said or did, it is our duty to apologize. They remember.
Between what is said and not meant, and what is meant and not said, most of love is lost. Kahlil Gibran
We reflect what is best in this world – or we don’t. Every relationship demands appreciation, forgiveness, humility and kindness. If we value those we care about, they deserve to be told that we are grateful for their presence in our lives. When our responses reflect what we teach, we model what we want our kids to do in their own lives and relationships. Instilling in them the simple and basic words that can help make the world turn on a more even, optimistic and thoughtful axis, as well as their own lives, is one of the best gifts we can give them.
The most important things are the hardest to say. Stephen King
If you died tomorrow, what would you leave unsaid? If you love someone, for God’s sake, tell them now. Tell them often. Say what you mean and mean what you say. Often, the words we leave unspoken are the most important of all.
Words are powerful. Use them well.