My college literature professor, Sister M. Lucilla, taught me how to appreciate words and how and when to use them properly. She would be quite upset about what has recently happened to the use of words in our new media contacts, and I am upset about how a word or words can set off anger, opinion, and even war in these volatile times. Since I am a writer, words are very important to me, and I try to use them to heal our broken world rather than to cause further wounds and suffering.
I remember as a kid in grade school some unkind words used by my classmates when they didn’t like what another kid looked like or wore or accomplished. Today that would be considered bullying and would not be tolerated by students or teachers or administrators. I do, however, know a 12-year-old girl who committed suicide because of how she was treated at her school. Even when she told her teacher and coach, they didn’t seem to want to do anything about the name-calling and mean treatment by her classmates.
In my day, bullying was considered acceptable, just part of the culture. Today we are trying to change this harmful and sometimes deadly culture of bullying.
In recent times, I have experienced the healing power of a word or words. Someone told me that I made a difference in her life because of a kind word when she was going through a very difficult time. It made my day to hear her say those words because part of my ministry here at the medical center is to be a healing presence in the midst of so much pain and suffering. I especially appreciate meeting former students and colleagues from previous jobs who tell me about something I said that influenced them in a good way as well as those who credit my sense of humor for helping them get through the day.
Something else I’ve learned about words in my seven decades plus on this planet is to take them with a “grain of salt,” as the saying goes. Just recently, someone said something to me with what I considered was a nasty tone, a put down about something I was trying to do. I know this person quite well, and she doesn’t often speak in such tones, so I’ve learned to give her the benefit of a doubt when she does this. I usually chalk it up to her not feeling well or to her being under some stress and it just comes out this way. I’ve learned that this is a good survival tool, and it helps to keep peace among my family and friends.
Who of us really and always knows the reason for another’s words? It has taken some soul searching over many words and lots of praying and reflecting to get to the point where I can be at peace with what others say if I don’t let their words have power over me. I can either give them the power or take the power for myself.
Let’s remember as we face the winter months ahead of us, “One kind word can warm three winter months.” Good luck and blessings!
Sister Mary Thill is a Sylvania Franciscan Sister. She is Patient Liaison for Mature Health Connections at Mercy Health – St. Vincent Medical Center. She can be reached at 419-251-3600. ❦
One kind word
three winter months.
I know nothing in the world
that has as much power as a word.
+Emily Dickenson, poet
Words can destroy—more readily than bricks, bombs, or poison.
But words can also build up.
They can soothe and heal—more readily than oil or aloe.
+Sr. Melannie Svoboda, SND