I have always had a thing for words. Like, since I was old enough to start noticing their usefulness in getting what I wanted. Especially when this included grating on my older brother and sister’s nerves. It was big fun when, in an argument, Ryan would make some perfectly lucid 6-year-old point, and I would spout back in my three-year-old wisdom, “Well you’re just too preposition to know better!”. He would usually respond to this by running to Mom yelling, “Mom, Julie’s talking weird again!” Argument won.
Words in pretty much any form are beloved by me. Listening to a really fabulous speech or sermon took my breath away even when I was much too young for that to be cool. Speaking them for myself was, of course, fabulous. Written words … heaven. You don’t even want to see my “written words” collection. But just in case you do ever happen upon one of my bookshelves and feel the urge to pull a book out, please put it on the table for re-shelving by the competent maniac librarian who has them all categorized in a very specific order. The pulling-books-off-the-shelves stage was a very hard moment in my toddlers’ lives. I say moment, because I pretty muchly lost my mind over it, and they never tried it again. I mean, really. Have a little respect for the crazy person and her library. 18-month-olds. Sheesh.
My problem is that words come too easily, too naturally to me. Just the perfect word to zap someone in their place is usually right on the tip of my tongue. This would be perfect except my Mom ruined it for me. Imagine if you will the kindest, most considerate person on the planet. I mean, so nice that it’s actually just ridiculous. Now double it. Now imagine they raised you. Sigh.
65% of the conversations I had with my mother up to the age of like 17, were the following:
Me: “So then I told them (insert brilliant, just-funny-enough-to-make-everyone-laugh, just-true-enough-to-make-one-person-really-pale comment)”.
Mom with a horrified and disappointed look on her face: “But you didn’t really say that, did you?” She always gave me the benefit of the doubt, knowing my love of words also extended to the ability to embellish details of stories after the fact.
Me: too honest to say no, too embarrassed to admit out loud that I really did say whatever horrible thing I had said.
Mom: (insert various forms of telling your child to go apologize immediately.)
Sad times, friends. Apologizing for the perfect zinger tends to take the “zing” out. Brutal for a budding verbal martial artist.
I can’t remember how old I was before I started to realize on my own that my words had the same effect on others that their words had on me. I do remember that I was much older than I should have been for that insight. I will also say that whoever made up that idiotic childhood taunt, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” had probably never been spoken to before. Or more likely, they had been talked to too much, and this fictional phrase was their defense mechanism. Today, I’m sure they would have been assigned a syndrome. Off the point a bit, my favorite version of this saying remains Gilligan’s from “Gilligan’s Island”. His phrasing was far more accurate in my opinion, “Sticks and stones may break my bones … so please, don’t throw sticks and stones.”
In my childhood verbiage was fun to experiment with. The many sounds words made tickled my brain, sizzled on my tongue. I used them ecstatically, with reckless abandon. The more powerful the word, the better. In my adulthood, I have discovered the truth about them. They can be extremely dangerous in the wrong circumstances. Hitler used them to build his Third Reich, to justify genocide, to work people into a frenzy for his cruel, lustful regime. When teaching on the Nazis in my World History classes I had many students ask me, “How could he ever get people to do the things they did?” Just with words. What a frightening prospect.
So here is my happy note (I always enjoy the happy note). Like any powerful thing, language is also wonderful! The right word spoken at the right moment is pure brilliance!
My mom had a quote about kindness that I remind myself of constantly when raising my own kids, “It doesn’t cost anything to be nice.” Really. Kindness is available to your lips 24 hours a day at no expense to you whatsoever. How much does it really cost you to say something healing, instead of corrupting? To be honest, instead of manipulative? To do a little research before posting some preposterous media-cooked-up horror story on your Facebook page? Good words are just as free as terrible ones. That is comforting to me.
Jason and I have four beautiful children … that we had in four not always-so-beautiful years. An interesting phenomenon happens to you when you have more than two children, as anyone with three plus will attest to. People have a weird idea that they are allowed to say anything whatsoever to you, no matter how personal, even if they don’t know you.
It cracks me up the amount of people who ask us if we’re finished, to which I actually respond with a smile and a “We think probably so,” instead of what I’d rather say, “None of your cotton pickin’ business”. They also feel free to ask us about our sex life. “You do know what causes that, don’t you?” to which I want to respond with either “No, can you explain it to me? I was homeschooled.” or “Yes! We LOVE doing what causes this.” depending on my mood. I’ve even been asked on multiple occasions if I’ve finally taken care of that problem – Really? I could go on a while, but I won’t. I will say, that today someone spoke the most wonderful words to me when I was out with my four children at a restaurant.
An older couple were sitting beside us while we ate. When they were getting up to leave, the man grinned at my kids and said, “Are they all yours?” I smiled back and said they were. He got a little teary eyed and said, “The only thing that could possibly be better than this, would be to add a couple more.” Love.
They both smiled and waved at the kids as they left. My heart just glowed from his sweet words. The waitress came with the check and asked me as I was paying if they were all mine, and if we were done. I smiled and said, “We think probably so.” Nice moments can’t last forever. That’s okay. She had to clean up the mess they made, so she’s way more entitled to ask than that random lady in the toilet paper aisle at Walmart.
Because of their incredibleness, I’m fairly certain my love affair with words will continue as long as I live. I will try to be more cautious though, remembering the impact words have on people. I’ll keep in mind the next time the anger boils up and I just want to rip someone to shreds that it’s usually not the customer service representative’s fault that my phone bill was double this month. Niceness will always get me farther than yelling. I know. I’ve tried both.
Our friends, children, coworkers, staff are collecting the things that we say and turning it into our legacy with them. They don’t care how much money we make, or what car we drive or how nice our clothes are. They only care about how our words make them feel. So let’s make them feel awesome! And whatever we do, let’s just please not throw sticks and stones.