"Words can kill you," commented Bernie Siegel, MD as he recently showed an entire screen of words/swords running into each other during a presentation to a group of individuals at an Exceptional Cancer Patients (ECaP) retreat.
Since then I've been struck by the more than coincidental association between the terms, "words" and "swords."
Although seemingly trivial at first glance, perhaps there was more to the similarity than met the eye. Was this purely coincidence? ... you know the way things superficially seem to be connected when they really are not. Or did our ancestors crafting the language we use today leave us with something far more important to think about?
I'm convinced there are no coincidences.
As humankind evolved, the power of words (both positive and negative) became obvious. While no doubt looks could kill, the ability to lash out verbally was often strong enough to tear into the depths of one's soul. Verbal attacks have the potential to inflict wounds that often result in a lifetime of pain and suffering.
Words tear us apart and often thwart our potential. The fate of children is often sealed early on by statements that squelch their vitality and creative potential. And while words may be swords, negative criticism is as powerful as a machine gun, riveting holes in the substance that holds us together and enables us to exist as whole human beings. Statements like "you’re not good enough, you'll never succeed, you're lazy and you’re a failure," often endure as lifetime scars. Negative suggestions that take hold predictably foretell ongoing consequences.
Words also continue to shape our existence. Slogans etched in our minds predictably determine our actions and choices. More than mere phrases, words strongly impact cultures, attitudes, beliefs and futures. Threats and condescending statements turn hatred, bigotry and deceit into actions that turn people against each other.
Taken to an extreme, while the prospect of casting a spell upon another is considered the substance of magic, fairytales or voodoo, the words we readily express, especially in anger and often without second thought, result in devastating effects. Especially in periods of vulnerability, people continue to replay and dwell upon the words that hurt them the most. The resultant condescending emotional tone is unhealthy and can lead to dis-ease.
Even in the absence of anger or threat, words can seal our fate. When a doctor announces, "you have three months to live," life suddenly comes to a grinding halt. Yet you have a choice. If you accept the prognosis without reservation, your fate is sealed. Your body will not argue. Such words become the substance of your beliefs which in turn significantly impact your biology and your will to live. However, if you challenge those words, your body stands at least a fighting chance to beat the odds or create new ones.
What is the best defense against those words/swords that threaten your existence?
It is a personal conviction, the trust in one's self and the secret of survival in a contentious environment. It is the elusive knowledge that you alone empower anyone's words to become swords. For the letter "s" that turns "words" into "swords" can also stand for the "shield of self-reflection" that can protect us and enable us to survive the gauntlet of life's challenges. It is the substance that transforms scars into tolerance, pain into self-confidence and wounds into compassion and understanding for others.
That shield may be our most important survival tool against the most devastating foes that lurk in the darkness. For words are really two-edged swords - they can destroy or empower us. It is simply a matter of choice - our opportunity to grow stronger and to add depth and resilience to the very armor of our being.
Yet never fail to remember our words, even in a defensive posture, can also be injurious. Every person has the option to retaliate or respond to verbal attacks by transforming their words into swords as well. Just consider the pain, hurt and the despair you’ve felt before defending yourself by striking back with a similar verbal attack or threat.
Know your most effective weapon is self-reflection. Trust in yourself and in your Creator. Perhaps the best offense is your unique potential to carefully choose words of love that can pierce an offender's armor revealing their higher potential to discover the goodness within them - Mind Over Matter!
© 2000 Barry Bittman,
MD all rights reserved