Choose your words wisely, for once spoken they go forth to create the world in which you will live. What do we know about words?
Words define. Socrates stated, “The beginning of wisdom is the definition of terms.” Shared definitions help us communicate well, and clear definitions help us refine our deepest thoughts. Just as a picture can paint a thousand words, so a word can conjure a thousand pictures.
Words express what we see, feel and believe. We also know what others see, feel and believe through their words, whether carefully chosen or not. Jesus tells us, “the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” 1
Words can be beautiful or ugly. The poet, Emily Dickinson, expressed her own thoughts about words this way, “I know nothing in the world that has as much power as a word. Sometimes I write one, and I look at it, until it begins to shine.” And of poetry, she said, “If I read a book and it makes my whole body so cold no fire can warm me, I know that is poetry.” 2 In contrast to beautiful words, some words can shout, growl or hiss as they declare hate or spew evil venom. For more details about the ugly use of words, see the article below about bullying, or learn about verbal abuse on our radio show or in this linked article.
Words influence our daily experience of life. Research shows (read more…) that just thinking about a positive word can reduce physical and emotional distress. 3 To take it a step further, if you meditate on one word that describes your deepest held personal value, you can significantly lower your stress hormones and distress symptoms. 4 To do this, make a list of all of the words that you value. Then choose the one that resonates with you today. Next, meditate on that word, say it out loud and focus on it for the day. Research reveals that this process and other similar positive word-focused tasks can change your brain patterns, creating a healthier and happier life. 5
Likewise, just seeing a list of negative words for only a few seconds can increase anxiety or depression symptoms. And the more one ruminates on them, the greater the effects on sleep, appetite and even long-term happiness. 6 Negative words, spoken with anger, send messages of alarm through the brain. This heightened state interferes with decision-making and increases a person’s propensity to act irrationally. “Fear-provoking words—like poverty, illness, and death—also stimulate the brain in negative ways. And even if these fearful thoughts are not real, other parts of your brain (like the thalamus and amygdala) react to negative fantasies as though they were actual threats occurring in the outside world.” 7
Even the words “no” and “yes” are profoundly influential on our immediate state of being. Try it out. Have someone say “no” to you ten times in a row and notice the effect on you. Then try out the word “yes”. “Yes” opens doors to communication and good feelings with each other. But there is a catch. Because negative words trigger our survival instincts, we humans are biased toward the negative ones, and they are remembered more easily and profoundly than positive statements. Positive words need to be consciously repeated at a ratio of about five to one, positive to negative, in order to have the same influence. 7
Words are powerful. They have the power to create or to destroy, to build up or to diminish. Words can inspire a person or an entire country. Consider the effects of the words of Martin Luther, Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill and Martin Luther King. You may think that you are not one of these great influencers, but your words too will inspire or discourage those who you influence: your family, colleagues and friends. Scripture warns us to tame our tongues, “For the tongue … is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.” 8 Our words are powerful for good or evil, and God’s words are the most powerful words of all. God’s words in the scriptures, are so powerful that every detail of them will be fulfilled, they sustain our very lives, they penetrate to our hearts, they are used by the Spirit of God to speak to us, and they are the power of the gospel. 9
Words create and predict. Consider God’s method for creating the world; He spoke it into existence. 10 Our words too, create and predict our own futures through self-fulfilling prophecies. You cannot become what you cannot envision.
My husband still clearly remembers his 3rd grade art teacher telling him to “stick to sports”. He mentions this statement every time he is forced to draw or play Pictionary. Similarly, a friend of mine, had a father who once told her, “You won’t amount to much.” She fulfilled this prophecy for many years before finally letting go of it in therapy and allowing herself to succeed. Consider in contrast, the effect of a mother who carefully describes to her son the images in her mind of his future success at pursuing his passions and dreams. We all need to be careful not to predict negative outcomes for others or ourselves when we are feeling discouraged. With God, there is always hope, and our words of faith need to be the ones that are spoken.
Words can heal. Well-placed words of love, and encouragement are very powerful. How many of us chose our careers or pursued our dreams because someone told us that we would be good at it? When we choose to speak positive words, we also get to watch the positive impact that our words make in the lives of others. Try encouraging someone, defining them as beautiful (as in this you are beautiful video experiment), or telling them your vision of them as their best self. Watch for and enjoy their responses. Choose to put words to your love, admiration, appreciation or prayers for others, and by doing so, bring salve to their wounds and hope for their futures.
Words of gratitude are especially healthy for us. Research demonstrates that speaking or writing words of gratitude benefit our lives emotionally, socially, and in our personalities, careers and health. 11 As we have this Thanksgiving season before us, let’s focus our words on whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy. 12
Lastly, the greatest word ever spoken is the name Jesus. When Jesus came to earth, He was called the Word that was made flesh and dwelt among us. 13 And someday, at the mention of His name, every knee will bow in heaven and on earth. 14
To sum up, words are like scents, once released in the air, whether from perfume or rot, they cannot be recaptured or diminished. What words are you going to choose to use today? Let’s all be a little slower to speak 15, and let’s try the five to one ratio of positive to negative words in our daily lives. Happy Thanksgiving!
* paragraph 4, bullying article – link to article within newsletter (put the link to the bullying radio show within the bullying article.
* paragraph 4, verbal abuse radio show link
* paragraph 4, verbal abuse article about verbal abuse: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-mysteries-love/201503/15-common-forms-verbal-abuse-in-relationships
* para 12, video link to “you are beautiful” youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aW8BDgLpZkI
1. Matthew 12:33-35
3. Genomic counter-stress changes induced by the relaxation response. Dusek JA, Otu HH, Wohlhueter AL, Bhasin M, Zerbini LF, Joseph MG, Benson H, Libermann TA. PLoS One. 2008 Jul 2;3(7):e2576.
4. Affirmation of personal values buffers neuroendocrine and psychological stress responses. Creswell JD, Welch WT, Taylor SE, Sherman DK, Gruenewald TL, Mann T. Psychol Sci. 2005 Nov;16(11):846-51. 5. http://www.tabalwor.com/en/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/Andrew-Newberg-Mark-Robert-Waldman-Words-Can-Change-Your-Brain_-12-Conversation-Strategies-to-Build-Trust-Resolve-Conflict-and-Increase-Intimacy-Plume-2013_1.pdf
6. Some assessments of the amygdala role in suprahypothalamic neuroendocrine regulation: a minireview. Talarovicova A, Krskova L, Kiss A. Endocr Regul. 2007 Nov;41(4):155-62. 7. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/words-can-change-your-brain/201208/the-most-dangerous-word-in-the-world
8. James 3:1-12
9. Matthew 5:18, Matthew 4:4, Hebrews 4:12, Ephesians 6:17
12. Philippians 4:8
13. John 1:14
14. Philippians 2:9-11
15. James 1:19