Our lives are filled with words. As you drive down the road huge billboards, now revolving with multiple messages, shout at you. Cars are emblazoned with advertising or stickers. T-shirts have slogans. Street light poles are plastered with news headlines or more advertising.
These are all words coming at us whether we choose to see them or not. We then make our own choices to switch on an avalanche of words through phones, computers, TVs, radios, headphones, Alexa.
If words are so prolific are we better communicators? Are we better informed? Are our lives more inspired and inspiring because of the uplifting quality of the messages? I am not qualified or able to answer that. We will leave it to the social behaviourists to do the research.
My question really is about how we personally are impacted by words. Marketers know the persuasive effect of the combination of words and images. We may well deny that we are swayed by advertising but statistics tell otherwise. Coca-Cola, already one of the most recognized brands in the world, spent $5.8 billion on advertising in 2018. That is so that you and I will be moved to buy a coke we hadn’t thought of buying before we saw or heard the ad!
Words of course have been used by politicians to rally crowds, by poets to move us to tears and by mothers the world over to say, “I told you so!”
What words do you remember? Do you remember the first time, or the last time, someone said, “I love you.” “I’m proud of you.” “Good job.” These words have a remarkable effect on us, no matter how hard-boiled we are. They give us confidence and belief in ourselves. Our self-esteem gets a bit of a shine and we feel a boost of energy.
We also have burned into our brain those words that in some way or another told us we didn’t measure up, that we’re not good enough or won’t amount to much. It was a teacher, a parent or a comment made on social media. We live to prove these words wrong or we secretly fear they are right.
Then there are the words we speak to ourselves. Your self-talk is either positive or negative, usually a bit of both. We berate ourselves for our mistakes, the comebacks we should have said and the opportunities we missed. We commend ourselves for our hilarious jokes, hard work and efforts to be a good person.
We define our image through these inner conversations. Our self-image in turn determines our confidence and our interactions with others. Do you see any correlation between what you say to yourself and how people treat you? We can change how others see us by re-shaping the words we speak to ourselves.
Then of course there are the words we speak to others. At a recent wedding I attended the groom stood up and paused, almost dumbstruck before he began his prepared speech. Then he shook his head in amazement and said, “I’m a husband.” Speaking the word out loud was acknowledging a new way of being for him.
Our words build and create relationships as well as cut people down to size. We can be funny and scathing — in the same breath. There are the words we should say and don’t, and the words we regret having spoken at all.
We are swimming in a world awash with words. Let’s not forget their power and maybe think more carefully about the words we use.