Words Mean So Much

You must speak straight so that your words may go as sunlight into our hearts.
~Cochise (“like Ironweed”) Chisicahau Chief

Did someone ever say something to you that stuck with you years later? Words have the power to raise us up to the highest peak and take us down to the lowest valley. Maybe you’ve had the chance to lift a friend, family member, co-worker or even a stranger up from the depths of despair, pain or loneliness solely with your heartfelt, caring words. Just as we can scar someone for life with these simple words, “You can’t do that” or “You’re not good enough”, we can change the course of someone else’s life with, “Go for it; you’ll succeed at whatever you do!”

Words can be especially strong coming from an authority figure like a teacher or parent. What was said to you as a child, can follow you around like a shadow years later. You may not have pursued a dream because of those words. It’s that serious. Our words can impact others far beyond what we think they do.

Take for example a story that aired recently on CBS News about Principal Joseph “Gabe” Sonnier of Port Barre Elementary school in Louisiana. He has a smile larger than life and a job he loves. He’s new to the principal position, but not to the school. Gabe started out as the school’s janitor, a job he held for 27 years. One day, during his time as janitor, then-Principal Westley Jones pulled him aside and said:

“I’d rather see you grading papers than picking them up.”

Gabe said that he “took those words to heart,” recalling that no one had ever believed in him that much. This became a defining moment in his life. So at the age of 39, while he continued being the school’s janitor, Gabe decided to pursue a teaching degree. Shortly after graduating college, he got his first job as a teacher at Port Barre. He later earned a Master’s in Science and Education from Arkansas State University.

Gabe’s lesson for all is: “Don’t let your situation that you’re in now define what you’re going to become later. It’s not where you start, it’s how you finish.”

Words have the power to discourage, humiliate, and hurt us but can also encourage, heal, inspire, and transform us. Being mindful of our words and their sometimes lasting effect on others is one of the kindness acts we can do for each another.

What words have left a lasting effect on you?