If you don't have anything nice to say then don't say anything at all."
How often have you heard that one? I used to hear it quite often in my house especially when my siblings and I would "go at it." Words were our weapon of choice and we knew exactly how to use them. Thank goodness for maturity and growth and an occasional tear-jerking pop from our mother. Okay, so it was more than occasional, but who's counting? The point is that when we were children, we acted as children sometimes do, cruel and immature.
Sometimes I sit and think back on those days and I can hardly believe how cruel we were to one another. While we acted pretty tough declaring the mantra "sticks and stones ... but words will never hurt ..." I knew that those words, as trivial as they sometimes were, carried power -- and lots of it. They did hurt.
I was always the most sensitive one, too. Unbeknownst to my siblings, I was becoming more and more self-conscious about certain things growing up. My defense was to "fire" back, returning fire with fire, but truthfully in the end, nobody won. Being hurtful to one another was never of any benefit to us. It never really even made us feel better.
We would somehow make amends shortly after our "word battle," but as I thought back over those days as an adult, I was filled with regret. We've apologized to one another for the indiscretions of our youth and it was important for us to hear those other powerful words -- "I'm sorry."
Fortunately for me, peace replaced regret because I realized that I learned a tremendous lesson about words. That is that words carry power, however destructive, however uplifting, words carry power.
When words are spoken between loved ones, they can be twice as strong. This is because, generally, we give more weight to the words that are coming from the people who are supposed to love and care about us. This is why parents must be careful about what they say to their children. Brothers and sisters need to be mindful about what they say to one another.
You might not be aware of their impact at the time, but when words leave your mouth unchecked, and they are negative or destructive, they can enter the life of your child, sister, or brother, as a seed. And, over time, whatever messages they received, and whatever perceived "truth" about their identity that they internalized, will manifest in different ways. One can only hope that that child, brother or sister is able to change their relationship to those words so that they have less creative power in their lives.
Sure there are times when we say things we don't mean, and as my siblings and I did, later regret them. We are human and these times will happen. Just make sure that when they do, you are attentive to the wound that you might have caused.
If this holiday season, you are still at odds with a loved one over something said to you at some point in your life, try attending to that wound. Think about your relationship to those words and to that person and rather than putting so much energy in not talking to them, try something different. Let them know how you feel.
Words should be handled with care. They are, simultaneously, the kind of weapon and gift that can do either great harm or enormous good.
Contact columnist LaTonya Dunn at firstname.lastname@example.org.