Wordplay Wednesday : The Power of Words

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We have all heard the childhood singsong adage “ Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Perhaps we have even said it aloud when we were confronted with hurtful words. BUT…we all know that this quote is not true at all.

Words have power. They matter. As a writer and word nerd I have always embraced  words as my medium of choice. It is thrilling to play around with words:  tinkering with, rearranging, and auditioning them until I find just the right one to express an idea or thought.  It is fun to see how they can be woven together to produce laughter, delight, surprise, or tears.

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Words can heal and words can hurt. They can change us in perceptible or subtle ways.  Sometimes, we are aware of the effect words have on us. Someone may say something that arouses an immediate visceral response. We know that those particular words have affected us for good or ill.

Often though, the effect is more subliminal. We read or hear words, phrases, or ideas over and over and soon they have taken up residence in our hearts and minds without us being aware. This is the pervasive danger that words can bring. If we hear or read something often enough, whether it is true or not; whether it is beneficial or not, it begins to become a part of us, without our permission. George Orwell , in his novel 1984 , said “ If thoughts corrupt language, language can also corrupt thought.”

I have recently had this experience of words and ideas that I do not usually entertain taking up residence in my mind and soul. It was disconcerting to find myself spending a great amount of mental energy trying to deal with these unwelcome, but obtrusive words.  As Jody Picoult says  “ Words are like eggs dropped from great height; you can no more call them back than ignore the mess they leave when they fall.”  I  was not the one who had  dropped the words but the exposure had left debris that muddled my thinking.

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Then I recalled a powerful and encouraging quote I have highlighted in my Bible. In Philippians 4:8, it says “ …whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything is worthy of praise, let your mind dwell on these things.” (NASB)

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Ah, yes. That was the answer. Replace the muck-making words with those that bring to mind joy, beauty, and loveliness. I needed to harness the power of words for bringing order back to my thinking. Engaging in supportive, wise conversations and reading uplifting stories and well-chosen works on creativity and  art have restored the equilibrium to my brain.

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This is a great lesson to me as a writer. I need to be aware and vigilant that the words I wield can be a positive force for good or a destructive one. I want my words to create delight, thoughtfulness, and hope. Therefore I need to choose them with great care and deliberation.  Words have power.  Words matter.

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