Words have the power to alter the future and change the world.
I cannot remember where I collected these words from, they are not my own. I probably got them from a book. Or something. They have been in my head for very many years.
On a more granular level, in line with altering the future and changing the world, words have the power to arm one with confidence and spur them into action. Sure, rather than seeking external validation, we should ideally be powered from within but alas, no man is an island.
On the flip side, words have the power to maim, cripple, instill fear and doubt in someone. Words have the power to make one recede into a shell, clump up like a clam and deny the world of their contribution, in whatever way
Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.
Words hurt the most. Words hurt the worst.
When I was younger, back in primary school, I remember how unkind I was with words. It was a long time ago, but in a strange way, some incidents have stuck with me even while others are now just blank spaces in my memory. One of the incidents that has remained with me is being in the parking at my school, waiting to be picked up when the day was done. There is a shed of sorts where kids would shelter under while waiting to be picked up. My classmates and I had a spot on the stairs leading up to the shed where we would put our bags down and then sit or stand or run around as we waited for our guardians to come for us.
This incident that is clear in my mind, was a girl who shall be known as A and I having fun at the expense of one of our other friends, E. Can we call her our friend though, given that we were having fun at her expense? So it was a really stupid thing, I cannot remember or understand why it was so funny or how we even landed on this one useless detail, but A and I were having a go at E because her hands were chubby. We came up with all sorts of amusing scenarios, saying things like, ‘If she gave someone a pat on the back, they might not live through the impact’, or ‘that a slap from her could quite literally knock the daylights out of someone.’
As cruel as we were, as we all can be sometimes, A and I were doubled over in laughter. I had tears rolling down my cheeks. All this in the presence of E. She had to sit there all evening until she was picked up, listening to us, who claimed to be her friends, as we poked holes in her self-esteem, riddled and crippled her with insecurities, tore her apart. She had to sit through it, bear it and occasionally laugh at some of the jokes.
I remember finally being picked up and thinking to myself on the ride home how light-hearted I felt courtesy of that merry mirth.
“She had to sit there all evening listening to us, who claimed to be her friends, as we poked holes in her self-esteem, riddled and crippled her with insecurities, tore her apart. She had to sit through it, bear it and occasionally laugh at some of the jokes.”
How do I know this is what she felt? That this is what she was going through? I don’t. Perhaps she has a thick skin and our cruel tirade of jokes simply went through one ear and out the other and she moved on with her life. I do however know that while placed in a somewhat similar situation, that is what I went through.
Still in primary school, again on those steps where we used to sit while waiting to be picked up…
I cannot remember exactly what we were talking about but one girl was complimenting another on her beauty, perhaps, she then turned to me and said that she wished she could use the same adjective on me but she thought that a certain adjective beginning with the letter ‘U’ would be more fitting for my face. I wish I could say that my mind immediately filled in that blank with ‘unequivocally beautiful’, but you will agree that that is quite a stretch. I thought the obvious, as did everyone else in the circle where we had sat and I sat there while people who claimed to be my friends poked holes in my self-esteem, riddled me with even more insecurities than I already had and yes, I occasionally smiled and laughed and tried to act like we were all having fun with the jokes when really they were having fun at my expense.
On that day, when I was finally picked up, I was anything but light-hearted.
I could recount numerous other instances of such childish fun at the expense of others as well as at my expense but instead, take a moment to think about whether you have ever been on the receiving end of such an exchange and how it felt. Then think about whether you have been on the ‘giving’ end of such an exchange and try imagine how the other person felt.
Over this past weekend, I got to thinking, why is it that we find it so much easier to use our words to bring ‘joy’ at the expense of others, especially our friends? Our friends, who we know best, whose hopes and aspirations as well as weaknesses we are well acquainted with are the ones we target. We know exactly what to say to elicit the most laughter and this is often what also silently causes them the most pain.
Why is it harder to speak positivity and optimism into others’ lives?
I happened to crash a birthday party this past weekend and the lady whose birthday it was, F, now I really don’t know her. I met her for the first time that night, while crashing her birthday party, and I quite possibly might never encounter her again, but she is…what we all should aim to be honestly.
She is loud and proud and just exudes love!
When we walked in, a little girl was reciting a poem about her, to her. F and the little girl had met by chance at the basement of a shopping mall and I’m not sure how this chance encounter had led to them being here but F seems like the kind of person who instantly makes a friend out of you. When she eventually came round to greet the friends I had come in with, I nervously stood up to shake her hand and wish her a happy birthday and she engulfed me in a hug and said she likes best the friends she has not yet made, declared we were now friends, said her home was always open and urged me to go back one day. I wonder what that would be like, if I actually got up one day and decided to just show up at her doorstep.
Every time someone walked in, this lady lit up and filled the airwaves, yes, she is a loud one, with such positivity.
“Ahhhh, you’re here! Thank you so much for coming.”
She would then silence everyone, because this was after all her home and it was after all her birthday, and launch into an explanation of how she had met said person and what an amazing individual they are.
* after making about 4 individuals at a certain table stand up *
“These people change the lives of children! They organise some extra-curricular activities for children from Kibera. They have built a community there. They give these kids something to do while they are not in school, something to occupy their time with. You know sometimes, our children get lost because they don’t know what to do with their time, so they start to indulge in destructive activities. These guys are changing lives. I went there and I found love and people like them are the reason I have been able to make a home in this country.”
Have I mentioned she is a foreigner?
* while hugging a lady who was sitting at my table *
“A, did I not tell you? Did I not tell you that you would rise? That God would lift you up? I am so proud of you. I am so happy that things worked out. I told you they would, did I not? Listen, you must stay humble though. We must keep each other strong, make sure you now lend others a hand so that they can rise as well. We women must keep helping each other. Don’t brag too much, only a little, you must, but just a little. Stay humble.”
What struck me about her, besides the fact that she really does use her words and not sparsely, is the fact that she had so many good things to say about everyone. All her friends, all the children, even me, a stranger!
Rome was not built in a day, but if you let lose a wrecking ball truck or five up in that place and were really determined, I bet you could bring it down in a day.
The effect of an unkind word can be debilitating.
If at the end of your life, a tally of all the words you have ever spoken was done, and they showed you how many were used to build others up and how many were used to tear others down, what side would your scale lean towards?
Words have the power to alter the future and change the world. How are you using yours?