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Your Words Have the Power to Create Change

The legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. teaches us that what we say matters. Will you use your words for the greater good?

Rolls Press/Popperfoto/Getty ImagesDr. Martin Luther King , Jr.'s "I have a dream" speech
Dr. Martin Luther King , Jr. giving his "I have a dream" speech

During Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s life, he inspired millions to see beyond skin color with his extraordinary ability to speak. Today, his “I have a dream” speech still directs us toward an ideal America, free from racism and injustice. Dr. King understood that his word had the power to transform others.

Through our speech, we too can affect the lives of those around us.

Words have tremendous power. Remarkably, one comment about our appearance can make us feel either great or terrible for hours afterward. What we say matters. This gives us an important choice to make each day: will we use our words to lift up others or bring them down?

Conventional wisdom says, “think before you speak.” Today, perhaps we should say, “think before you type.” With social media such as Facebook and Twitter, people have never had a greater ability to communicate with millions of others around the world.

MORE: Do You Have a Positive Online Identity?

Consider the potential impact you have on others—will it be positive or negative?

Sure enough, research shows that what we hear from other people can significantly impact our behavior. In one study, two groups of adults were given a math test. One group was told that women and men tend to perform equally well on the test. The other group was told that women tend to do poorly on the test, compared to men (this was not actually true). Compared to women who were told that they would do equally as well as men, women in the latter group did worse on the math test, largely because they were told that they would underperform1.

Knowing that your word has such power, consider the advice of best-selling author Don Miguel Ruiz: be impeccable with your word2.

To be impeccable with your word is to speak with truth and love. Be honest with others, yet also use your word compassionately and without harsh judgment. Also, be clear and direct about how you wish to be treated. Unfortunately, it’s quite common to use our word to blame, judge, or gossip. Indeed, gossip is the most common way we fail to use our word impeccably. Gossip spreads a virus of negativity; no good can come from it. Often, what we say or hear about others is not even true! Maybe you remember a time when others have gossiped about you. Whether it was true or not, it probably hurt. Keep this in mind when speaking about others.

MORE: Why We Love to Gossip About Celebrities

There is an additional benefit to being impeccable with your word; you are less susceptible to the careless words of others. When you commit to using the word only for truth and love, it’s easy to recognize communication filled with lies and hate. You will know not to take such speech seriously and that it is merely the result of someone not being impeccable with his or her word.

The powerful technique of loving-kindness meditation, discussed in a previous Cloud Nine article, helps you practice using the word impeccably with yourself. All too often, you may tell yourself that you are stupid or unattractive. Counteract this negativity by telling yourself how wonderful you are. This does not foster vanity, which comes from fear and insecurity. It is true that you are wonderful because every person, by her or his very nature, is spectacular. We may not act or feel that way, but it is true nonetheless. Therefore, use your word to celebrate and savor the beauty that resonates inside of you.

Your word is powerful. Imagine all of the good will you can spread! Compliment a co-worker’s hairstyle or tell a family member how much you admire her. Beware of using your word thoughtlessly, because you also have to the power to ruin someone’s day. When you commit to speaking impeccably, your relationships are bound to improve. Take satisfaction in the power you have to make others feel good, just by using your word. After a few days of speaking deliberately with truth and love, you will begin to understand the power you possess, just as Dr. King did. Continue being impeccable with your word and discover just how powerful you really are.

MORE: Be Kind to Yourself

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1 Spencer, S. J., Steele, C. M., & Quinn, D. M. (1999). Stereotype threat and women’s math performance. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 3, 4-28. 2 Ruiz, Don M. (1997). The Four Agreements. San Rafael, CA: Amber-Allen Publishing.

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