On Words

What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

For someone who once wanted to be an English teacher, I should probably be the type of person who believes the pen is mightier than the sword. But if a sword equates to action and the pen to words, those who know me would say I live by actions and not words. Over the years (okay, decades) I have honed my life to be one defined by what I do, backing up statements with actions that demonstrate that I am serious, dedicated, and dependable. Genuine. I strive to be the person who says “catch you later” or “call me if you ever need me,” and means it. Perhaps it is because I have been left hanging, more than once, by believing the words of individuals who seem sincere, but after the upteenth time of reaching out with no response, or the thirtieth time a plan falls through, I get the message. Let’s face it—it sucks. But, we all have priorities in life, and I understand that; I neither expect or take offense if I’m not one of them. Like many people, I bucket my “free” time balancing my responsibilities and spending time on things that are meaningful, to both myself and others. So, I move on, not out of spite, but just because I only have so much time for it all.

Lately I’ve been thinking more and more of words that have been said to me, recently and in the past. Often, there are those words that replay again and again in my mind. We all probably hear them. In the end they tell us “you’re not good enough, I reject who you are, I do not value you.” Why those words stick with us when the words “I respect you, I care about you, I am here for you, I love you” do not, is something I struggle with. Perhaps, because the actions associated (or absence) with all those words weigh heavily on my mind. Couple that with the fact that things change, and words said in the past may have little to no meaning today should, in theory, mitigate the power of those words. But it does not.

I think of all these things when I say my words, especially to my children. Impressionable, growing, innocent—and I the one with much influence by design, because I’m the adult, meant to guide them till they are able to be independent. To loved ones, acquaintances, strangers … sometimes anger, fatigue, anxiety, fear all make their way into my speech, and I regret the words that tumble out. And no matter the follow up words and actions, they hang in the past like shards of glass. It is then I rely on forgiveness and understanding, both from others and myself, marked with a change to behavior, action, to move ahead. But again, to someone so used to living a life marked by actions, it is this introspection which humbles me and I think—words matter in many ways more than action. Once something shatters, it can never be set just exactly back to what it was. And words have the power to break.

I reflect on all these things, and come to no firm direction, except this— there’s times when the words are unexpected, genuine, and they lift you up and make you smile. Because, no matter the exact words, they all mean the same: “I care, appreciate, and value you.” And that’s words that come from the heart that translate into connection. Those words are the ones I strive to say and mean.