The power of words

Here is a guest article from one of my Afrikaans colleagues on Twitter @pietretief.


The Power of Words

Piet Retief

The last quarter century of my life and also my future have been negatively influenced by words. The power of words is sometimes underestimated and I think we can each be more effective if we are careful with our words.

I sat in a church many times as a child and heard our words matter. As a child, I understood the words and also realized that I could hurt people with words. I think most people think the same way as a child about how words affect us.

Over time, one finds that the message about word use is deeper than just how one feels or how people think as a child, how words are used by someone who wants to hurt you. As you grow up, your focus turns away from yourself and you start to wonder if you can do more in life than just make yourself happy. For some people it is a superficial thought and they start doing things for other people to be seen or to soothe their conscience. Others do good to others from their hearts out of the principle of truly helping others. Then there are the people who sacrifice their lives to help others.

The feeling of helping others and the use of words are intertwined. If you are sensitive to yourself and how you touch other people, then the saying starts to make sense to you, which is that the path to hell is covered with good intentions. It seems to me that people in our society say many things without thinking about how it affects others and thus paralyses their intended good works. Furthermore, it sometimes seems to me that it would have been better if people who pretend to be doing well should rather not do anything and thereby reduce the damage they do.

Who are the people I have in mind. Here is the difficult answer. I think that’s all of us. All of us do damage every day with our words, sometimes with good intentions. The end goal does not validate the way we do things, but the goal and how we achieve it makes all the difference.

Why is the point so important in my opinion? We live in a world that has changed rapidly in the last few decades. Many of the systems, culture and community that I grew up with are either ruined, changed or simply no longer considered valuable.

We will need to start counting our words to create space for all of us to breathe and thus create the path where we hear each other and start working together as a team. One may wonder, well now, how can this apply to my life?

Obviously one person doesn’t have all the answers and one video can’t change everything. What I did learn is that I am not the victim I sometimes think I am. I hope there is at least one person who will agree with me that they sometimes find that they are part of the problem, even if they mean well.

What helps me personally is a number of ways of thinking and techniques that I apply to help protect myself from words against those that are just as eager to do something good as me or to counter someone’s effort so that my goal can be achieved instead. Three techniques that stand out to me are listening actively, believing a person until facts prove them wrong and finally, but most importantly not to waste people’s time.

Each of these points can further be discussed in more detail, but even thinking carefully about the three points as markers has greatly helped me to make progress in my life.