Writing this column today reminds me a bit of the days when I was involved in Toastmasters, an organization that helped me overcome the fear of speaking before audiences. I was part of a toastmaster's group in two Oregon cities and basically we went through a series of textbooks that prepared us to speak on a variety of topics to different kinds of audiences.
We had to give a speech about every six weeks and I was always on the lookout for interesting subjects. I liked to keep ahead so I wasn't scrambling the night before the speech trying to come up with an idea. Like this column, preparation is always the best method.
However instead of once every six weeks I try and write something for my "On the Road" columm every week. Since I don't travel every weekend, I try and write about things that are relevant to the community, the newspaper or my life in general. Over the holidays, while I was traveling home from Montana, I had a delay in the Missoula airport and picked up a book that prompted today's column.
The book I just finished reading is called Positive Words, Powerful Results, which provides 16 chapters about simple ways to honor, affirm, and celebrate life. The author is Hal Urban.
Urban did an incredible job pointing out how words have shaped history.
"They've given birth to ideas, started wars, inspired millions, and made people rich and famous," he stated, going on to point out that words can hurt and shock, or they can heal and lift spirits. They can even get us to buy things. Words can change lives, for better or for worse.
We all remember sayings like "Death and life are in power of the tongue" and I remember someone once saying that "the pen is mightier than the sword." Mother Teresa was once quoted, "kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless."
We have all been influenced by words. I remember those teachers who were supportive and nurturing, helping me through the tough periods in my life and I also remember those teachers and coaches who were mean, critical and spent most of their time humiliating people with name-calling and sarcasm.
I thought about some of the comments in the book over the weekend and it was interesting that on a visit to the grocery store Saturday I heard and saw examples of the best and worst.
One mother was patient and loving as she calmed down her upset little girl, talking calmly and lovingly and encouraging her to keep trying. But just three aisles over another mother was berating her little boy, telling him he was stupid, dumb and ugly and that he would never amount to anything. We all pretty well know how each of these children will grow up and if they will feel good about themselves.
I raised two sons, taught school for a few years and have been involved in several communities over the past 30 years in a variety of capacities. I have seen how words can make the difference between success and failure, between happiness and sadness, between positive and negative actions.
It's no harder to use encouraging and loving words than it is to berate and hurt. Kind words can cheer us up when the world is getting us down, they can honor us for our achievements, cause little ones to giggle and laugh.
I remember a friend once told me that he went to a retirement home once a month and would ask the staff if he could visit one of the loneliest ladies in the home. Since his mother had passed away he wanted to pass on the love he had for her to someone else. He would take them a small bouquet of flowers and sit and visit for a few minutes with them, letting them know that someone out there was thinking about them. I never forgot that act of kindness.
Words can restore our faith in the goodness of humanity, bolster our self-image and inspire us to give our best. I can tell you exactly which bosses I have worked hardest for over the past 30 years. It wasn't the ones that were demanding, critical, insensitive and rude.
Words can lift our spirits and warm our hearts, they improve our wounds and acknowledge our work. Words can heal and boost our confidence and celebrate our triumphs.
Words can comfort us in time of sorrow and make little children feel as though they count. Words can encourage the employee who might need an extra little push and remind us what's right and good in the world.
It's wonderful to be surprised by words when we don't expect them. I received an e-mail from a long lost friend this morning, telling me how much she missed our visits. It put a smile on my face early on today and I have been able to brighten other people's days with a kind word.
The book was refreshing and reinforced many of the things I already knew and practice, but more important it reminded me that no matter what the situation is I can be part of the solution or I can be part of the problem.
Words can enrich our lives and can brighten our days.