I question the validity of the old saying: “Actions speak louder than words.” Because there are times when words speak many times more succinctly than any actions possibly could.
Words can do amazing things. I read once than they have more power than an atom bomb - a gross exaggeration, of course - but there are times when their power is unbelievable.
I’m convinced that a few words can end a marriage, ruin a career, sever a family relationship and even be the cause of a suicide. This is why they should be used with both care and forethought.
Obviously, this does not apply to the casual words that can be fun; can be used frivolously of jokingly, and can even be the glue that holds warm and lasing friendships together.
The deadliest, most dangerous words are those used with the desire, and intent, to hurt - to cut or sear or bruise.
Here are some examples of what words can do: A woman was told by her physician that she was pregnant. She’s desperately wanted to have a baby for ten years; and had gone through every disappointment, every difficult medical treatment. When she excitedly told her husband that, at last, she was pregnant, he said, “I wish you weren’t.” She said later that her love for him ended at that exact moment.
Love affairs - because of their fragility - can, quite easily, be destroyed by a few words. I knew a woman who was deliberately in love with a man, who was not known for his humility - or gentleness. She felt unsure of him and would beg him to tell her he loved her. Not a smart thing to do; but how many of us are smart about love?
The last time she did this, he said, curtly “I’d die first!” The love affair ended a few weeks later, and she was surprised to find that she didn’t even care; that those three words had ended whatever she’d felt for him.
A young girl’s brother had committed an reprehensible crime, and their mother had received several thoughtful and compassionate notes. However, the mother’s note from the young girl’s boyfriend read: “I’m so sorry about this terrible disgrace.” When the girl saw how his words had wounded her mother, for the first time, she saw him as he was - a shallow and pretentious snob.
Undeniably, words can do irreparable damage, but they can also do unforgettable wonderful things. In the memories close to our hearts are words we never want to forget.
The last time I saw my comatose 83-year-old father, he was lying in a hospital bed… not speaking… seemingly lost in the fog of his hementia.
I reached over and held his hand tightly, and he said, softly, “Nice girl, nice daugther.” Those four words were absolutely the best gift he ever gave me; and he was an unusually generous father.
I never liked my hands. And now, that they are old hands, I dislike them even more. Then one day this spring, a young woman, whom I admire, and am fond of, said, “I love your hands.”I think I’ll always take comfort in her words.
Not long ago, someone sent me a letter my mother had written, over 53 years ago…two years before her death. It was written when I was 17 and away from home for the first time. In the letter, were the words, “I miss Jane terribly.”
She has been gone for so long, her memory had become cloudy and dim. Those words brought her back to me.
So we never know how or when our words will do all kinds of things; usually being either happy-making or sorrow-bringing. It would benefit all of us, then, to remember certain things about words.
For instance, negative, wounding words should never be borrowed and reused.
If someone repeats to us something they heard said about us, and it hurts us, all parties are guilty of using words as small, but destructive, weapons.
Just one little word can have a terrible impact. I’ve never forgotten a poem by the black poet Countee Cullen. He wrote about his first trip, “Now I was eight and very small, and he was no whit bigger. And so I smiled, but he poked out his tongue, and called me ‘Nigger.’…of all the things that happened there..that’s all that I remember.”
When I was a teenager, we played a game where we told each other our faults. As if being a teenager weren’t tough enough! Once, playing this game, a boy told me that I was a lousy dancer.” I cried and cried over it and the words didn’t soon lose their impact. I was never again so foolish as to play that game.
Because words live on within all of us, we should at least try to use them with great caution and care. Yet, how many of us can consistently do this?
Maybe we should try using the golden rule, as it applies to words: Say nothing to other that we would not want said to - or about - us. Surely, it’s worth a try.
MEMO: Jane Lavagetto is a Spokane-based free-lance writer.