Emily Dickinson wisely said, “A word is dead when it’s been said, some say. I say it just begins to live that day.” I happen to agree. Like living organisms, ideas—through words—are implanted in the hearts and minds of people, where they live out their days. Words have the power to grow one’s confidence higher than the crown of a Redwood tree or prune until withered and overwrought with decay.
In the ninth grade, my twin brother (Josh) and I were assigned to the same English/Literature class. As a point of reference, Josh and I were frequently subjected to comparison while growing up (e.g. he was better at this and I was better at that). I suppose we provided an ideal case study for proponents of black-and-white thinking.
One day, the teacher called Josh and me up to her desk to discuss each of our performances on a writing exercise she had assigned in class. A real straight-shooter, she snappily announced something to the tune of, “Josh, you are a really talented writer, and Jason, you are not.” She was the teacher and I the student, so who was I to question her judgment? Surely she had considered multiple data points beyond just a single paper to make such a definitive decision about Josh and me. I imagine she even made allowances for a wide-range of distractions that may have influenced our performances—distractions like the drone of fluorescent lights overhead, a vent blowing cold air directly above one of our desks or the reek of formaldehyde seeping up from the frog dissections in the biology lab beneath us. Undoubtedly, she had drawn an informed conclusion, hadn’t she?
Hopefully, this example is not typical off the majority of teachers, but let it demonstrate the gripping power of words. As you can imagine, her statement hindered my writing. I was plagued with self-doubt for years, fearing criticism of my efforts. On the flip side, however, I wonder if her words inspired my brother? After all, he was (and is) a gifted writer (but that doesn’t necessarily make me a bad one).
Words have the power to build up or tear down and are seldom spoken without effect. Does a person throw a stone in a pond without expecting to see ripples? The words we speak don’t dissolve in thin air after they leave our mouths, but rather reside within whomever they are spoken to. Today, let’s make a concerted effort to choose our words wisely as well as overcome the damaging words we’ve suffered.
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