The Power of a Single Word
“Words: so innocent and powerless as they are, as standing in a dictionary, how potent for good and evil they become in the hands of one who knows how to combine them.” — Nathaniel Hawthorne
I’ll start off with a simple question, one in which I’ll ask for you to answer either aloud or in your head:
Do you take responsibility for the words you use towards your fellow human being, whether it be online or in person?
Seems simple enough, yes? And I’m sure your initial response would, “Well, yes! Of course I do, Kira! I’m a wonderful human being who treats everyone with the utmost respect!”
But you and I both know that’s not true, right? Surely, we all can do a better job in the way we converse with one another. Myself included, for I am among you as the imperfect beings that we are.
Knowing we all should strive to be better and do better, let’s have a healthy conversation about how we communicate, the true power behind words.
A single word can be the most powerful thing on Earth. Stop and think about that. Words can create wars or foster peace. They can unite or divide. They can uplift or destroy a person. Words even affect our brain and body functions!
The old, ridiculous saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me” is a stupid child’s rhythm from the 1800s meant to deflect pain felt by verbal insults. We know all too well the affect bullies, for example, have on their victims when they use offensive language. It hurts! It stings! You feel it in the pit of your stomach, even when you say “you’re fine”. It gnaws at your very bones when someone says something hurtful. We know the power a single word can have on us.
So if we know this and we know that feeling, why do we turn around and deliver it back out into the world? Wouldn’t we want to stop it in its tracks so no one else feels the pain of words?
If we truly believe “people should treat one another better”, then wouldn’t we only use words which spur positivity in the body and out into the world?
The fact of the matter is we are careless creatures. We spew whatever verbal bile on our minds without a second thought. When was the last time you used your language with intention and careful consideration of the effects it might have on another person?
If neuroscience has taught us the biological effects of a single negative word can have on a person, then are we not individually directly responsibility for the negative environment which we live in today?
Are you not in charge of your reality? You’re the only one who has control over your thoughts. We know thoughts create our own reality. So if that’s the case, you’re creating the negative reality which you then respond to negatively.
YOU have the power to change your own reality with the words you tell yourself. In turn, you quite literally have the power to use language to boost or crush others around you. In conclusion, YOU are in charge of what you want society to look/feel like. One word makes all the difference. Use language with intention and care.
“By holding a positive and optimistic [word] in your mind, you stimulate frontal lobe activity. This area includes specific language centers that connect directly to the motor cortex responsible for moving you into action. And as our research has shown, the longer you concentrate on positive words, the more you begin to affect other areas of the brain.” — Words Can Change Your Brain, Dr. Andrew Newberg, neuroscientist and Mark Robert Waldman, a communications expert
But here’s the biggest problem we face as the unevolved human species that we are:
- Even as we consciously use positive affirmations and language, the brain doesn’t respond as fast as it does with negative ones. Why? Because the brain is concerned about survival, so it reacts faster to negative thoughts/words and labels them as “threats”. In order to overcome this hard-wired negative bias, it takes intentionally repeating as many positive affirmations and words as we can.
New positive brain pattern = new positive perspective on life = new positive society. Now who doesn’t want that?
But guess who’s in control of that?
- Choose your words VERY CAREFULLY AND SLOWLY, so your brain has time to process and create the reality you wish to have. You must slow down your thought process in order to interrupt our natural tendency to use negative thoughts and words.
- Positive words and thoughts propel the motivational centers of the brain into action and help us build resilience when we are faced with problems.
- According to Sonja Lyubomirsky, a leading happiness researcher, if you want to develop lifelong satisfaction, you should regularly engage in positive thinking about yourself, share your happiest events with others, and savor every positive experience.
- Stop the negative thought IMMEDIATELY and ask yourself if it’s a life-death situation. Your brain lies to you CONSTANTLY. Reframe the negative to focus on the positive. This has to be done immediately, so the amygdala doesn’t create an imaginary threat.
- According to researchers, if you want your business/personal relationships to flourish, you’ll need to generate at least five positive messages for each negative utterance you make. (“I’m disappointed” or “That sucks” count as expressions of negativity, as do facial frowns.)
My father is a reporter and has been my entire life. As such, we were one of the first families I knew of who got the internet when it first became publicly accessible. I remember in middle school, as I was turning in a book report, my teacher stopping me in my tracks.
“Kira, your bibliography is incomplete,” my teacher said.
“No, it’s not”, I answered.
“But where’s the books you used to research the topic?”, she continued.
“I found the encyclopedias on the World Wide Web,” I said plainly.
“Yes, I see you have listed here ‘WWW’ as one of your sources. But what is that? What is the World Wide Web?”, she asked.
And as a 6th grader, I was explaining the wonders of this amazing thing called the “interweb”.
I was addicted to the internet from the very start. So much so that in those days, it was dial-up. I racked up phone bills upwards of $800/month, which my mother would rip her hair out over.
I couldn’t get enough of it, though. It was an endless sea of information and I ate it up. The message boards were most intriguing to me. You could converse with other people online about all kinds of topics! I joined a lot of music boards and enjoyed making online friends. And you felt safe in these message boards because there were rules plainly outlined before you joined.
“No rude comments. No offensive language or images. Treat everyone with respect or you’ll be banned.”
To enforce these rules, the boards had moderators who were the guardrails of conversation, ensuring everyone was respectful to one another.
Let’s fast forward to today…
A friend of mine posted a screenshot of a tweet on his Facebook page about a person’s opinion on genetics and having children. I saw it and responded to his Facebook post with “Fact”. It’s my opinion and I stated it with one word.
What transpired next is a series of responses to my post, which I’d like to talk with you about as it’s a lesson for all of us.
I personally don’t get offended very easily. But I also don’t allow others to use offensive/disrespectful language on any of my social media pages. I realize having a public page is my responsibility to have rules around what I am willing/not willing to accept.
Because as we’ve learned, words matters. I don’t want others absorbing negative language because of how destructive it is on our brain patterns and, subsequently, our lives.
The responses I received on my friend’s Facebook page were unkind. They weren’t hurtful, but they were passive aggressive and incredibly rude, telling me I need therapy or that I need to get educated in basic sciences. Pretty “normal” responses you see online these days, right?
Now, I had the choice of throwing their low-level communication right back at them, but then that’s a reflection on me, now isn’t it? Instead, I held them accountable for their choice in negative words by respectfully telling them we all need to do better in the way we talk to one another. Healthy debates are okay to have. And it’s okay to disagree with one’s opinion. It is, however, NOT okay to be condescending or disrespectful simply because you don’t agree.
Of course, they continued with their emotional responses towards me. At this point, I simply allowed them to prove my point. And then I did something else which we ALL must be do. I reached out to my friend whose page this was happening on. I challenged him respectfully, telling him that he was the moderator of his page. Because of that, he must have his own rules about what he’s willing to allow on his page, very similar to the moderators on message boards.
That is where social media fails to educate the public on how to use its platforms. Social media giants can only police so much. They’re much more concerned about violence on their page than they are about disrespect language. But it is because we do not moderate our own pages that is the crux of the issue.
If we allow rude and negative comments on our page, we are the problem.
That’s where YOU come in. We don’t have moderators to keep us in line and remind us to be respectful. That’s our job as human beings. If you have a social media page, you have the responsibility to set up rules around how you want people to treat one another.
By allowing negative language to occur, you are directly responsible for the outcome, which is an angry, divisive society.
If you have a social media page, you’re a moderator. Don’t want that job? Delete your social media page because, by doing nothing to promote a positive experience, you turn into the problem. Take accountability for your own pages and how you allow human beings to treat one another.
“A single word has the power to influence the expression of genes that regulate physical and emotional stress.” - Words Can Change Your Brain, Dr. Andrew Newberg
- We all have the power to affect someone, biologically, with just one single word. Think about that for a moment.
- Positive words build calmness in the body. Whereas negative words create the flight-or-flight fear response.
- One word can change a person’s brain patterns, for better or worse.
It’s not about always thinking positive. That’s delusional. It’s about allowing yourself and others to be open to and look forward to things. Negativity brews internal stress in the body, which brings about hopelessness. Positive words reduces our heart rate.
Each of us is responsibility for the words we use both internally and externally. What you say to another human being has a greater impact not just on them, but on the entire energy in society. We have a great responsibility as human beings to be ever so cognizant of each and every word we say to ourselves and to others. Our society depends on it.
- Hold yourself accountable for the words you use.
- Before responding, take at least one minute to visualize the words you’re about to use in your head and critically think about the impact they will have.
- Learn more ways to incorporate more positive words and thoughts into your life in order to change your reality with the following books:
- Words Can Change Your Brain
- Mindful Framing: Transform your Anxiety into Vital Energy
- Addicted to the Monkey Mind: Change the Programming That Sabotages Your Life
Would You Rather?
… find out you’re in a coma right now, and this text is a message from your doctor using advanced technology to wake you up
… find out the universe was created a couple of days ago, and all your memories and knowledge are fake?
Oof! That’s deep, now isn’t? But anything is possible, I suppose. What if this reality we live in is fake, and everything we thought we knew about life and the world around us is completely wrong?
I’d hate to be in a coma and miss out on living each day to the fullest. I think I have to choose the latter of the two. I wouldn’t mind to find out that all of this is just an illusion. I’d find it highly intriguing and also exciting as I could start all over again, almost like having a new life!
Which one would you choose and why?
Make Humor Great Again
Why did the brain refuse to take a bath?
It didn’t want to be brainwashed.