Can we admit that we all say things we wish we could, in the vernacular of the day, walk back. When I’m the offender, though she’s been gone for many years, I cannot escape the influence of my mother.
She believed words have power . . . that what comes out of our mouths is important . . . that what we say today has an effect on tomorrow.
The four of us kids — me, my sister and two brothers — had predictable difficulty with what we perceived to be her ridiculous standard. She would not stand for us belittling each other, even in jest.
Once the words are out there they can’t be taken back.
Slang would draw an evil eye. If we threw around language she perceived to be nothing more than shorthand for cursing, we found ourselves in real hot water.
In part, this was a reflection of a poet’s heart. She loved literature, was fascinated by the wordsmith, and the lyrics of a song could bring easy tears.
But at a deeper level, she subscribed to the idea that words have staying power. Notes of context inevitably fade with time. What we say today will hang in the air, and echo in pivotal moments of tomorrow.
Even playfully calling my brother stupid would, in her view, make it easier for me to use the monicker again. And again. And siblings weren’t the only ones off-limits. Name calling is demeaning. Never mind the fact that it brings real discourse to a screeching halt.
Mom would not stand for us making fun of anyone.
And though admittedly inhibiting for three young boys in the house (my sister was much more like mom), the lesson was not lost; we knew it was never okay to be disrespectful of another human being.
As kids we were, predictably, much less discriminate when out of her earshot. But years later her influence lingers.
Yes, Words Have Power
They can be instructive, provocative, and convicting.
They can stir laughter, and prompt tears. They can reach into otherwise quiet corners of the heart and move us in unimaginable ways.
Mom subscribed to the let your yes be yes and your no be no philosophy. I don’t recall ever having doubt about where she stood or what she meant. She was the toughest person I’ve personally known . . . fighting disappointment and disease for years. Yet, she was gentle, kind and respectful.
Sure . . . most of us are going to slip up, and beg to walk it back. But it is worth remembering that words are able to inspire vision and conjure great dreams. They are far too valuable to be used thoughtlessly or indiscriminately. Much less, irresponsibly.