Words can break us

I was six and we were on holiday in Wales when I asked a question that would change the way I thought about myself for a very long time.

‘Daddy, why are all those people standing in the field?’

It wasn’t a field but a cemetery and the ‘people’ were headstones. After the holiday I was off to the optometrist to be diagnosed as short-sighted and fitted with a pair of glasses. For the next ten years, until I got contact lenses, I felt as if the hated glasses defined who I was.

‘Specky four eyes’

‘Four-eyes’

‘Specs’

To be honest, not many of the kids at school called me those names. But they were in my head and they were what I feared being called because they were the names for ‘people who wore glasses’ and those people now included me.

I’d gone from being a confident little girl to being embarrassed about the way I looked.

Words are what I hurt myself with.

Words break hearts and we don’t realise it because… they’re just words?

Words are what stay in people’s hearts and minds, continuing the damage that is often casually and sometimes unconsciously inflicted.

Words stay with us, shaping our perceptions and opening up or closing off what we dream for our future.

Being conscious of our words and our language – of the effect that they can have – means being more intentional about how we use our voice in the world.

When we intentionally align our voice with our values, we can exercise greater compassion and understanding of others especially those whose experiences we do not share.

Like the woman who may be 80 plus in years but is still the feisty forty-something on the inside.

Like the teenager born in Australia but always being asked where he ‘comes from’ because of his Asian appearance.

Like the little girl who hates being defined by the glasses she wears, the ones she thinks make her look ugly.

Being aware and intentional about the language we use and the words we choose can mean that we stop breaking our own hearts and start giving them the space for a different future.

Sometimes silence says more than words ever could.

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