Jordan was the only new student in her fifth grade class. On her first day of school, she sat by herself at lunch. No one spoke to her all day. No one even took the time to welcome her to the school or introduce themselves. Jordan was feeling incredibly lonely. At recess, she sat behind a big oak and read her book. A few minutes later she overheard two girls from her class talking. “That new girl is really something!” the first girl said. “Yeah,” the second girl added. “Did you see those jeans she’s wearing? They are so last year! What a freak!” As the girls burst out in laughter, Jordan’s heart sank. The girl’s words…girls she didn’t even know…cut deeply.
You see, at Jordan’s old school she was quite popular. She was captain of her soccer team and at the top of her class academically. The day Jordan overheard her classmates talking about her changed her life forever. Her grades began to slip. She rarely left her room. She had no interest in playing soccer; something she used to be very passionate about. Jordan’s self-confidence was fading. She had let herself be defined by what others thought of her.
Jordan’s story is not that uncommon. We’ve all had someone in our lives whose words had a negative impact on us. We’ve all also been unfairly judged at some point.
We all have people in our lives that we rank according to importance, don’t we? Our spouses and children are more important than say, our siblings. Our siblings are more important than our cousins, and so on. Why then when some random woman at the grocery store tells us that maybe we’d be better off with the low-fat ice cream and some bigger jeans do we get so offended and take these things to heart? After all, this woman isn’t part of our inner circle. Why should it matter what she says? You know why…because as human beings we are wired to. Every human being has a desire to be accepted and loved. We don’t like feeling like we are less than acceptable…a mutant of sorts. This desire is deep inside of us and like it or not, it doesn’t fade with age. It’s only when we learn to see the distinctions between what people say and what we make it mean to us, that we begin to liberate ourselves from the stories words can weave.
Words are powerful. The words “I do” bind husband and wife forever. The words of the Pledge of Allegiance evoke a feeling of patriotism and pride. But just as words can be a positive influence, they can just as easily become destructive. The words “I hate you” screamed by a teenager to their parent is devastating. The words “I want a divorce” tears families apart. Words carry with them a great responsibility. I tell my kids all the time that once words are spoken they can’t be taken back. You can apologize for things you’ve said, but there is nothing you can do to make someone “unhear” your words. We must remember, just as other people’s words have an effect on us, our words have an effect on others. We must choose them wisely, with kindness and love in our hearts. Anything else is probably better left unsaid.
“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
In the story I shared earlier about Jordan, the girls in her class hadn’t spoken one word to her, yet they had decided simply from the clothes she wore that she was a “freak”. Jordan wasn’t even given an opportunity to really show her new classmates who she was inside; to share her true self. Who knows what relationships could have been built; what wonderful friendships and memories could have been made if only they had given Jordan a chance.
My mother used to tell me, “Treat others as you would like to be treated.” None of us are perfect and I assure you, none of us would enjoy having our faults and shortcomings paraded around for all to see. Sometimes we judge people without even realizing it. How many times have you been in the grocery store and seen an overweight person and said to yourself, “Gee, he/she could really afford to lose a few pounds.” We don’t stop to think that maybe that person is that way for a reason. Maybe they have a medical issue. We rush to judgment and make assumptions out of ignorance and intolerance. Our society has placed these “socially acceptable” labels and expectations on people. A person’s spirit; their essence is what truly makes them who they are. Hair color, skin color, clothing…it’s all just window dressing for the true “self” that lies within. Let us not prematurely judge others based on such superficial, materialistic standards lest we miss out on the experiences and relationships we were truly meant to have in this life.
“Love is the only mirror we must use to judge ourselves and others.” ― Bodie Thoene, A Daughter of Zion
In closing, I’d like to challenge each and every one of you to look upon each other this year with love and compassion in your hearts. Find the time to be more patient, more understanding, more sympathetic. Choose your words wisely. And in the words of Mahatma Gandhi, “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. … We need not wait to see what others do.”