The Power of Our Words


“I don’t believe you’ll find that book at all interesting, since you’re not a mother yourself.”

I remember it so clearly. I was speechless.

We sat, side by side, in the front of her car. She was dropping me off after lunch together on a hot, late summer day. I had told her about a book my mom had given me recently. It had been meaningful and I wondered aloud whether she had read it or not, since she’d recently become a mother herself. Her comment cut so deep, because my husband and I had been trying to get pregnant for a long, long time.

Two months later, she dropped off violets, leaving them by the front door. She’d heard from her mom that I had had a miscarriage.

Words are powerful. None of us are exempt from the propensity to weaponize them, whether it is intentional or not. Words can also be used to speak truth, shine a light in dark areas, speak against injustice. Words also have the profound capability to heal and reconcile—to bridge the chasm caused by pain.

I have a notebook by the side of my bed with these words on the cover: “If You Have Nothing Nice to Say, Write It Here.” And I do. I write all the things there, allowing them to flow uncensored. I feel not only the weight of the emotions tied to those words leave my body, I also feel the power of the emotions tied to those words leave as well. These pages, in turn, are used as kindling for the fire pit. When they no longer have weight or power, nor can offer anything of value to anyone, their role is to become ashes.

Recently, for International Women’s Day, a group of women who are very dear to my heart, stood around my kitchen island amidst an abundance of food and Manhattan drinks. We talked and talked for three hours straight. We talked about politics, our families, our personal struggles and victories, our dreams. Woven throughout the conversations was an intentional regard for the minds of each of the women present. There was an intentional regard as well for each person’s opinions, opinions that have been garnered from their own experiences and for that reason—that reason alone—were worthy of being heard.

It does not always happen that way, though, does it? I would like to be able to say that those words I write in the special notebook by my bed have never, ever been uttered vocally in any context, whether intentionally or not. Regrettably, they have. And damage has been done. Sometimes a pot of beautiful violets and an apology may be the very thing to remedy a slip of the tongue, or an unintentional slight that has hurt someone. In our humanity, we can both offer and receive grace in our friendships and move on. I am grateful for the times when I have been offered grace in response to the hurt I’ve caused. Other times, it requires more than that to heal places in which a fracture of relationship has occurred.

I want to work on becoming a person who leverages words to build others up. I believe this to be extremely brave work in its vulnerability, because it means that when I have felt hurt or slighted, I cannot allow it to take root or fester. It means that I first need to be honest with myself as to how words have affected me, because if I do not take the time to recognize their impact, my actions will reveal it soon enough. I do not want any latent, residual hurt or bitterness to cloud the way I see someone or respond to someone. What does that entail? Does it require further conversations with those who have hurt us in order to restore harmony? Does it mean making the choice to offer forgiveness, and thus breaking the chains? I want to do the personal work I need to do in order to be able to have the freedom to leave someone feeling better after having spent time together, not worse.

As women, there are so many ways in which we are triggered by words: the words we read, words spoken directly to us or words we hear. What would it look like for us to be more intentional about the words we use—in whatever context—by first doing the difficult work of examining our own hearts and clearing up those cobwebs of residual hurt we’ve experienced? I believe that is some of the bravest work we can do. I believe it is some of the best work we can do in our desire to leave people feeling better, more whole, for having spent time with us.