When I was a child my grandmother often told us “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” What she was referring to was how we talk to, and about other people. It was good advice. And when it came to others I tried my best to abide by her words. But when it came to “saying” things about myself, well that was an entirely different story.
As human beings we tend to be our own worse critic. We play the same record in our head over and over again…I’m too short; I’m too fat; I’m not pretty enough, and much, much more. Even when other people pay us a compliment we sometimes brush it off. “I just love your hair!” exclaims a co-worker. “It’s too curly! I couldn’t do a thing with it this morning.” We answer back without even noticing the compliment.
Many of us have grown up hearing the scripture “death and life are in the power of the tongue” (KJV Proverbs 18:21). Meaning you can create life and death with the words that you speak. Why don’t we flip the script? Instead of saying negative things over our life why don’t we start speaking positive? “You love my hair? Thank you.” And leave it at that. Not so easy, you say? I guess you’re right.
Growing up I heard a lot of negative talk aimed my way. I looked nothing like the other kids in my classroom or even my school. I didn’t have the same skin tone or hair texture of any of my friends. And none of my friends were being raised by their grandparents. Some uncomfortable questions or comments came from well-meaning people who just didn’t have a clue. “How do you get your hair to frizz like that?” And others came from people who knew exactly what they were doing and saying but chose to hurt me anyway. “One day you’ll grow up and be all alone too.” As a child and then a teenager some of the rude, insulting comments were very hurtful. Especially when it came from someone you were supposed to trust. The words played over in my head again and again.
As the negative comments continued I began to internalize them. I took ownership of those negative words and began repeating them to myself. At first, not out loud but in my mind. It happened so gradually I didn’t even notice. After a while it just seemed natural. And before I knew it I was actually speaking the negative words out loud. “That boy in school couldn’t possibly be interested in me,” I told one of my classmates. “I don’t look like the other girls,” I continued. It never dawned on me that it was because I didn’t look like the other girls was WHY he was interested in me. (I found out many years later during a class reunion.)
All through college and as an adult that negative talk continued to play over and over in my mind. The negative words went from my mind; to my tongue; out my mouth and penetrated my life. It wasn’t until I read a book that said how we are creating our own life with the words we speak, that I even took notice of what I was doing. When I read the words I felt something stir in me, deep down inside. I realized that the negative things that were happening to me were because I was speaking them into existence. “I always have to take this car to the shop.” “There’s no nice guys out there.” “I’m never going to get that good job so why bother applying.” “Everybody wants something from me.” “I’ll never lose this weight.”
I was tired of the way things were going in my life and I became determined right then and there that I wasn’t going to let negative talk continue to ruin my life. Positive words for now on! Nothing negative was going to come out of my mouth or anyone around me. I drove my family crazy with the constant yelling “don’t put it out there!” when I could tell they were about to say something negative. And knocking on wood, with a “God forbid” thrown in when their negative statement actually slipped out. Truth be told I was even getting on my own nerves.
But as I grew older I realized there was no point of trying to put duct tape over other people’s mouths. (Figuratively, of course.) And what did knocking on wood actually do anyway? I couldn’t be responsible for what others say or do. I only had power over my own tongue.
So I had to make some changes. It wasn’t enough to try to change my words because I’d eventually slip up. I had to start by changing my mindset. That was and still is difficult. A work in progress. When the negative thoughts come in my head, I immediately stop and change it to a positive. But thinking it isn’t powerful enough. I have to say it out loud. The more I say and hear it the more I actually begin to believe it. “I’ll never be loved again. I’ll be alone for the rest of my life,” has become “I am worthy to be loved. Only good things are coming my way.”
And as adults it is not only important to speak words of life over our own future but to speak life to others as well. Especially to children. It doesn’t even have to be your own child. I’ve heard so many stories of famous or prominent people whose mindset was changed because of the words an adult spoke to them. Words that may seem meaningless to one person but could change the direction in someone else’s life. Let them know they are special. If you notice a gift in them, tell them.
Parents and teachers have the power to change lives every day. But so do neighbors, co-workers, bosses, the man behind the deli where you get lunch every day, the hairstylist or even a stranger. There are so many young people looking for direction today. Why not reach out with a positive word or two.
And not just to children. Adults need positive words as well. That single mother needs to know she’s doing a good job. That father who makes sure he’s home in time to coach his son’s football team needs to hear from you. Senior citizens need to know that someone still cares. That they are still viable. That their life has meaning.
So if you see someone and you are moved to say something positive to them do it. Even if it’s just a smile. You never know what that person has been going through. For all you know they are at the end of their rope and are afraid to reach out. Your smile or a simple “hello” can make a difference.
We have been inundated with a tremendous amount of negativity lately. We need to counteract that negativity, that death, with life. As citizens of the world we all have the responsibility to speak life to others. But we must first start with ourselves. Change your mindset. Speak life into your future…speak life into the future of others. And realize that your tongue has the power to affect change one way or the other. Use the power of your tongue to spread life into all that you see.