what you say, matters

There’s an unquantifiable power in words. A meaning that goes beyond the letters. Beyond the ink. They stick with u.  Through time. Through centuries.

Although, it wasn’t until recently when a friend thanked me for my continuous support and encouraging words, that I realized that what I say, matters. Whether it’s good or bad, formally or casually, my words hold meaning. Yay! Or yikes.

Words, however lightly or strongly spoken, have the power to impact, shape or influence the people around you.  What’s scary is that negative words can hold greater power than positive words (Baumeister et al. 2001).

Even if the words are untrue, individuals can undergo what’s known as the self-fulfilling prophecy, first researched by Robert Rosenthal.  According to this prophecy,  one’s expectations about an individual, eventually lead that individual to believe and behave in a way that confirms the original expectations. So even if the negative words are untrue, they still hold the power to shape an individual’s life.

Furthermore, once these negative words are planted, it can be difficult for them to be unrooted. Although we all strive to live happy, fulfilling lives, we have the ability to fixate on negative words, thoughts or experiences for longer than we would like. In more extreme cases, the fixation on negative words leads to depression, anxiety disorders or poor self-confidence.

And these negative words or experiences can be hard to undo. While studying successful marital relationships, Gottman found that good experiences out weigh bad by 5 to 1. In other words, you’ll need 5 good experiences to outweigh the power of 1 bad, at least in close relationships.That seems like a lot!

Though it’s not all bad. According to Baumeister, even though a bad event may have a stronger impact than a comparable good event, many lives can be happy by virtue of having far more good than bad events.

So be cautious of what you say, whether you’re joking or not. And hey, as Ellen Degenerous likes to say “be kind to one another”.

Baumeister, R., Bratslavsky, E., & Finkenauer, C. (2001). Bad Is Stronger Than Good. Review of General Psychology. Vol. 5. No. 4. 323-370

Gottman, J. (1994). Why marriages succeed or fail. New York: Simon & Schuster.