The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

April 13, 2013

Words have the power to harm, heal

Keeping The Faith column

By Bev Davis

Editor’s note: This column by the late Bev Davis originally was published April 25, 2000. Davis passed away Aug. 1, 2010, of a sudden illness.

“Words are pregnant with power,” says TV speaker Joyce Meyer. And so they are. I’ve never subscribed to the old axiom, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but your words will never harm me.” We’ve all been hurt (and helped) by words.

Words are my business, and nobody knows better than a writer how effective the right word can be when it’s delivered at the appropriate time. Words transmit moods, evoke emotions, convey information, spin yarns, impart faith, create doubt, advise or criticize. They can bore us, excite us, motivate us, depress us, fill us with hope or plunge us into despair.

We take words for granted, and we often spend them carelessly. We use them as pawns of power for self-gain and scatter them frivolously through gossip and criticism.

I hope I’m learning to use words more wisely. Despite what I’d like to believe, not everyone wants to hear my opinion about everything, and I don’t have to disclose my personal feelings during every discussion. The writer of Ecclesiastes reminds us, “There is a time to be silent and a time to speak.” I need to work more on that silence part.

In listening more, I’m keeping a private tally of the number of positive and negative words I hear each day. Guess which group tops the list? You’ve got it. Negativity reigns. I hear far more words that hack hearts, split hairs, spoil enthusiasm and stir up trouble than those that excite the mind, soothe the emotions and exhilarate the spirit. I hear more words that divide than unite. More that tear down than build up.

I’ve wasted too much of my life in that rut. I’ve decided to take the high road and concentrate on a more positive approach to life. Words are the primarily tools through which all of us can do that.

One writer has said, “Words are the chariots in which the quality of the heart and mind ride forth to other souls.” That’s what I want my words to be — chariots. Vehicles that lift others up. Wings that carry them above the winds of trouble. Wheels that give support and keep moving in the right direction.

Because words spring from attitudes, it’s a challenge to maintain a mindset that produces words that help and heal. If I want to write or speak words that empower others to rise above the dredges of negativity, I have to raise the bar in my own mind. I have to refuse to settle for the spectator sport of judging others and tackle the tough job of improving myself. If I am to teach others, I must learn from myself.

If I’m going to expend the energy to give birth to words, I want to make sure the ones that come out are worth the time and effort.