- Jaime Lang
Every day we tell stories. We tell them about ourselves. We tell them about others. We tell them about the objects, events, and information we encounter. We aren’t always aware of the stories that run rampant through our minds. Even when we tell them to each other we don’t always think of them as stories or see the way that the words we choose shape the narrative, but we don’t need to be aware of their power for words shape our perceptions. They form our self-concept, build strangers up into enemies or friends, and dictate the hardness or softness with which we interact with each other.
All of this is to say that words are powerful. Language is powerful. It isn’t just a word by itself that has power, but that our thoughts and beliefs attach to words and bring them to life with energy. This is why the definition and tone of individual words can change over time without reducing the impact that words in general have. Words catch our attention, direct our focus, and over time we internalize them and the feelings they create to form core beliefs. Those beliefs then become our window to the world which will dominate our experience.
The good thing about words though is that we can choose them—and choice is the most powerful tool we possess (read more about how decisions determine destiny here). We have the power to choose the way that we express ourselves both internally and externally.
Initially we may not be aware of this power and when this is the case we will let the words we hear shape us. We will take in all the words we hear around us and think that they are our own and then we will repeat them again and again to reinforce the meaning. Living like this is disempowering. It means that your worldview is predominantly shaped by people outside of yourself—mostly by the family and culture you were born into. When this is the case you are not the one initiating your own beliefs. You are not the one telling the story about who you are and what the world looks like. You are only repeating what you have been told and if what you have been told causes harm you are reinforcing that pain for yourself and those around you. When you become aware of the power of words—especially the power of your own words you will also find that you have the option of accepting or rejecting other people’s words. You will find that you do not need to make other people’s words your own. You can decide which ones you agree with but you can also disagree with what you have been told and even more incredibly, you can form your own beliefs using your own voice.
This is where things like speaking your truth and telling your own story take on importance. Speaking your truth is taking ownership of the words you tell about yourself and your perspective. It means that you allow your experiences to be valid and create a language in yourself to express those experiences. The story that other people told before can still inform you, but it doesn’t dictate your perception anymore. How you tell your own story, especially to yourself can shift your self-concept and the role you play in your life. There are many people who have gone through hardships and tell themselves how unlucky they have been or how unfair life is. There is nothing wrong with acknowledging this level of pain, but if that is where the story ends then the trajectory is bleak. Those words told in that manner feel helpless and the person tells a story that reinforces that state of helplessness. Changing the story to one about someone who was handed obstacles and persisted in their progression towards greater things no matter what came there way-- that story has power in it. That story is about someone who is capable and resilient. Can you feel the difference in the words?
The way we talk about ourselves changes how we feel about ourselves. The way we talk about others changes how we view others. The way we talk about problems changes how we view those problems. All of these are places where we have the potential to use our words to improve or detract from the world around us. If you know that words are power, then we can use that power to create a world that is expressive towards growth. We can use words as tools to empower ourselves and others. We can use them to tell stories and share experiences to foster understanding and improve connection.
Words are powerful. How will you use yours this week?