Measure Your Words Before You Pour Them

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” We’ve all heard that phrase—do you believe it?

Early in my professional life, I worked in management at AT&T. During that time, ongoing negotiations with the union broke down, so a strike was called. One of our clerical people made a difficult decision to cross the picket line and come to work. (She was pregnant, and her boyfriend had recently decided he didn’t want the responsibilities of fatherhood and left.) In order to support herself and her soon-to-be-born child, she felt she had no option but to cross the line and work.

Early in the afternoon on the first day of the strike, she approached me and asked if I would walk her across the picket line after work. I said I’d be happy to and didn’t give it another thought. At the end of the work day, I walked her out of the building and toward the picket line. As we got closer, one of her non-management colleagues on the line approached her and got right up in her face. Then she sneered, “I hope you have a miscarriage you pathetic b****!” My pregnant co-worker became weak- kneed, so I steadied her. She quietly sobbed as I helped her to her car.

A few days later, the strike ended and things returned to normal—or did they?

Over the years, I have come to believe that the human tongue is the most dangerous weapon on this planet. Ironically, I also believe it is the most powerful tool for spreading love.

Take a moment and think of the most wonderful compliment you have ever received—one which touched you deeply. Now, contemplate what effect that compliment has had on your life.

A dear friend once told me, “Mark, you lift others up—that is your gift.” I believe that is the most touching and inspiring compliment I have ever received. Those few words have had an incredible impact on my life. I have returned to them again and again when I feel a need to reground myself and get on with my life’s work.

Years ago, I was listening to an inspiring presentation being delivered by a good friend. During his presentation, he shared a quote by long-time radio host, Bernard Meltzer: “Before you speak, ask yourself if what you are going to say is true, is kind, is necessary, is helpful. If the answer is no, maybe what you are about to say should be left unsaid.”

Each day I live, I remind myself of the power of words—those spoken to others as well as those we speak internally to ourselves. Words can tear down and destroy or they can lift and inspire. The choice is ours. May we all choose wisely.