Wednesday, November 16, 2016


     A couple of years ago, I gave a speech at a state competition entitled, “The Power of Words.” If we don’t think words have stingers, then we’ve been living under a rock the past 18 months. There are some contradictions in what I’ve been taught growing up, and that was the introductory line of my speech, “Stick and stones will break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” That’s what my parents taught me in the 50s. Here we are almost 70 years later, and the country is in an uproar over words. Words hate, words criticize, words injure, words frighten. My parents might have said, “They are only words.” Yes, that’s true, but the intentions and threats behind them are very real, and we all react when they are negatively aimed at us or our loved ones.

     Last night, I gave my first speech in front of my Advanced Toastmaster group. I don’t know any of these people. Even after several days of rehearsing my speech, until the moment I stood in front of them, I was nervous and worried about their words of evaluation. After you speak, one person gets up in front of the group and evaluates your speech. Then the floor is open to anyone in the group who wants to add his or her own opinion. Needless to say, this is a very humbling experience. If you are sensitive, you’d best put on your invisible armor because this is not for sissies. Fortunately, all the comments were very positive, and I am buoyed by my success. If, however, they had not been so complimentary, I’m not sure my ego would be intact this morning.

    I have three wishes about my ability to use words. As an author and public speaker, one might be surprised by these. See if you can relate.

  1. I wish I could use my words to more clearly and firmly state my needs.
  2. I wish I could use my words to put rude people in their place.
  3. I wish I could use my words to protect my boundaries.

     These three wishes have to do with assertiveness. If you’re like me, you can be very assertive in certain contexts and totally intimidated in others. As a teacher of thousands of teen-agers, I had no problem keeping the calm in my classroom and setting boundaries for my students. I have a hard time, however, standing up for myself with people in my own family. The obvious difference is, the emotional connection carries a much larger threat. Unfortunately, the carry over from one situation doesn’t apply to the other.

    I fear that words of hatred, retaliation, injustice, cruelty, repression are weighing  much heavier than those of kindness, compassion, gentility and decency. So what can we do? Develop a fresh vocabulary of the latter and use it daily in every situation. When someone is spewing anger, listen attentively and respond with empathy. When someone is venting about the sorry state of the world, offer gentle words of understanding and compassion. Answering hate with hate (“Yeah, you got that right.”) does nothing but fuel the angst and spread the darkness. Let’s take the light of the recent moon and use it to enlighten. I get a C+ in forgiveness, but I can move on, put the hate behind, and try to carry the moonlight into morning. Can you?