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Words Are Powerful

Words Are Powerful

By Maria Shriver
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I love words. I love stringing them together in stories, in poems, and in speeches.

I love watching someone’s face soften when they hear touching words expressed by another human being. I love when the lyrics of a song move my heart. I love reading quotes from ancient mystics that still resonate today. I love reading reflections from someone who has dug deep and taken the time to excavate their life so that they can use their words to help others navigate their own lives.

Words are powerful. They can inspire you, move you, and rock you in the best way possible. Or they can destroy you, cut you down, and bring you to your knees. A friend of mine pointed out the other day that when the letters get rearranged, “words” becomes “sword.” Think about that. You can use your words to heal or to hurt, and the choice is up to you.

I wanted to write about words today because almost everywhere I turned this past week, the impact of people’s words made the news. Kanye West’s anti-semitic language rightly got him banned from social media. Here in Los Angeles, a political firestorm erupted when a leaked audio tape played the racist, hurtful words of three city council members. (One has resigned so far.) And then on Thursday, the January 6 committee voted to subpoena Trump and question him about his role in the events that led to that day. As the chairman of the committee said, Trump “is required to answer for his actions. He is required to answer to those police officers who put their lives and bodies on the line to defend our democracy.” Meanwhile, it was revealed that on January 6, Nancy Pelosi told her staff she wanted to “punch Trump out” if he made his way to the Capitol grounds.

Also this week there was the ruling against Alex Jones, someone I don’t even have words to describe. That man’s language has caused so much pain over the years. I know we have free speech in the country, but Jones’ words have cut like a knife, terrorized an entire community, and spread flat-out lies.

Then there was the debate about the words (or lack thereof) of Pennsylvania Senate-hopeful John Fetterman. Following his first interview since his stroke, pundits debated his ability to string words together and the lingering effects that his stroke has had on his speech. Fetterman has assured the public that his struggles are the result of an auditory issue that he’s working hard to rectify in speech therapy. It’s an issue known well by so many who have found themselves in a similar state.

And finally this week, there were the words of the legendary actor Paul Newman, who has a posthumous memoir coming out on Tuesday. Newman’s book takes us deep into his psychic heart and reveals his struggle with the death of his only son from drug addiction. We read his words and feel his pain. He wrestles with what he could and should have done. One of the lines in his book hit me deep in my own heart: “Being a star throws everything out of whack for your kids.” It made me think about my own kids and their life journeys.

That’s why I was so grateful that I was able to round out my week by interviewing my friend and poet Yung Pueblo. Pueblo’s words always stop me in my tracks. The way he strings them together takes my breath away. He often places just a few sentences on a page and leaves them dangling in mid air, making you stop and think or cry.

Words matter. They really, really do. Each of us is tasked with choosing our words carefully and piecing them together in a responsible way. It’s no secret they carry great weight. After all, words have led nations to war. Words mixed with deep listening and deep understanding have healed deep fractures and rifts. Words can make people feel loved, or they can break people's spirits. I’ve been the beneficiary of both experiences and trust me, one is way better than the other.

I love that Yung Pueblo expressed to me that we are a healing generation. He spoke so beautifully about his own road to healing through meditation, love, and self-acceptance. He spoke about the words we use when we speak to ourselves. Are they brutal, judgmental, and harsh, or are they loving and tender? He connected one’s own inner healing to the healing that our world so longs for. If you use kind, tender words when you speak to yourself, then you are more inclined to do the same to others and so forth.

We live in a time that needs deep healing. We live in a time when legislators are trying to ban books for the words in them, and yet they allow others to roam free spewing hate and lies in the public square. We must all call out and repudiate hateful words, even if they are uttered by a famous person struggling with mental health issues. We must all call out people like Alex Jones for the violence their words cause, or others who blatantly lie, deride, and gaslight while hiding behind the gift of free speech.

All this reminds me of the famous adage I was taught as a child and that so many of us know: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” These are words we should ban from our vocabulary because they are so untrue.

Words do hurt. They do destroy. They have the power to lift us up or tear us down. How we use them is up to each of us.

So as you set forth this week, choose your words carefully. Contemplate how you are speaking to yourself and those around you. What you say could heal someone’s heart, or break it, so tread carefully.

Prayer of the Week

Dear God, please help me use my words and my voice for good. Help me be gentle and kind with myself and extend the same courtesy to others. Amen.

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