Words are powerful. Like bricks and mortar, they can be used to create a thing of beauty. And like fire, they can be used to tear down and destroy. For example, my daughter was told at her kindergarten orientation that she was a math whiz because she could already count to 100. I believe that simple gesture has given her unstoppable confidence in the subject, and she has never had a problem understanding a math concept. When it comes to reading, however, teachers and administrators--and maybe even I need to be included here--have told her that she needs work. The result? She doesn't enjoy reading. She would do a stack of math worksheets over reading a book any day, crowing about how easy they are in the process. And though her reading continually improves, she may never gain the same confidence in words that she has in numbers or love for reading that she has for arithmetic.
In the fourth grade, my class was given a writing assignment. I wrote about a vacation that my family went on to the Lehman caves. It made my classmates laugh (something that isn't easy for the shy girl to do) and caused my teacher to glow with pride and flood me with praise. Similarly, a story that I wrote in the fifth grade about George in the Jungle making his way to Neverland earned me the award of Writing Raven at the end of the year. Perhaps these things alone gave me the confidence and audacity to be a writer. Thank you Mrs. Duncomb and Mrs. McDonough.
Some people are likely more susceptible to words than others, but I think that for the most part, they exist as something greater than letters squished together to create meaning. They can make you float on clouds, or spark something inside your brain that changes the way you think and perceive the world forever, or cut deep to your heartstrings in a way that is much too personal and painful to share. They can heal a wound like a cast holds a broken bone or they can scar one's self esteem and outlook permanently. The examples I gave all involved children, and I think that is also significant, since adults are more able to reason through the things that people say. But still, words have influence on all of us. I hope I always use them for good.
What have you done with words today?