Our Words Have Power

I like to make people laugh. It’s probably one of my favorite things to do and it’s part selfish and part the entertainer in me. I like to make people feel good too. So if that means I’m hosting a dinner party, standing on stage telling a funny story, or hanging out with a new friend – I like there to be laughter and with that laughter comes joy.

I guess more accurately, I like joy – I genuinely love being happy, laughing, and having fun – usually, this is a good thing and this is also probably not a wild statement for you to be reading…who doesn’t like being happy and feeling joy?

My love of making others laugh can sometimes lead to new relationships, adventures, or new memories. On the flip side, my love of making others laugh can sometimes lead to hurt feelings and misunderstandings when a sharp-witted comment that was meant to be just a joke is taken seriously.

One of the first times I realized the power we wield with our open mouths was during a sales presentation that was taking place in Northern New Hampshire.

At the time, I was active with an MLM Business that required me to be on the road 5 to 6 nights a week. Two of those nights would be invested in what we referred to as “Open Opportunity Meetings.” This was essentially a public meeting held in a hotel room where fellow independent business owners invited friends, family, and any other random person they met to come and check out the business opportunity we believed we had to offer them. The meeting would last roughly 50-minutes and it would consist of myself and usually one other person tag-teaming a presentation about our compensation plan. I loved it I was roughly 20-years-old and had all the energy in the world.

One night our meeting was kicking off and I was first on deck to lead the “plan.” I was ripping through the opening like a pro – like I always did. I told my classic jokes that always got laughs and a few new ones that popped into my head as I lead the crowd through a whirling presentation that was part inspiration, part financial, and mostly pure excitement. Before I handed the marker off to a cohort a new joke was birthed that I knew I just had to tell.

You see, at the time, the Swine Flu was all the rage. It seemed like you couldn’t turn on the radio or TV without hearing breaking news about a new case or scary symptoms — much like the Coronavirus is today. Every time I heard the newscasters say the name “Swine Flu” all I could think of were funny pig jokes so I thought tonight would be the perfect night to test one out on the crowd. So, as I was wrapping up my portion of the “plan” I let myself indulge in some Swine Flu humor and it started like this…

“Speaking of wild trends, have you all been following this Swine Flu epidemic?”

The crowd nods.

“It sure seems crazy to me – all I know is that when I was in high school the Swine Flu is the feeling you got after you found yourself making out with the fat chick at Prom!”

I waited for uproarious laughter but it never came.

It was crickets and worse than crickets, it was offensive and hurtful and selfish…and worse, in the front row sat a woman who identified with the ignorant joke I felt so inclined to make and before my eyes I watched her shrink in her chair as if my joke were directed at her. I tried to recover from the offense but the damage was clearly done.

There’s a funny thing about hurtful jokes that I am still struggling to accept. They are selfish.

Often times a hurtful joke about someone’s features, intelligence, or family is said because the joke teller feels it’s okay as long as it makes other people laugh BUT, that’s just not the case.

Realize one thing right now – this entire blog makes me a hypocrite.

I still tell jokes that some people would deem inappropriate. I no longer tell share any of those quips from the stage but around a family dinner table, I may. Sometimes it just makes it easier for me to deal with situations that I’m uncomfortable with – a sly joke that’s slightly off-color can break the ice if timed perfectly and not at the expense of another.

The challenge is – my words have power.

As a professional speaker, my choice of words can mean the difference between getting referred to another event or not. Around my family dinner table, I don’t have to worry about being “referrable” but my words have power just the same. Many times the hurtful things I am tempted to say are just selfish and serve only one purpose – making me feel better for that moment.

Recently, I was perusing Twitter and saw a tweet from a relative that reminded me of this lesson.

In this tweet my family member was making a joke about people who are so “lazy” they use automatic wheelchairs to get around theme parks. This tweet caught the eye of someone who was offended by his statement and they rebutted his comments – to which he responded, “My lesson… don’t tweet about fat people…(even if) you are from a mostly fat family.”

Being an overweight member of the same family – I can only assume they were referring to me.

I read the tweet a few times trying to see it from other angles but soon realized – they were probably trying to be funny. If I asked about it, I’d be told it’s just a joke. But truth be told, to me, it didn’t feel like a joke – it felt like an insult. Just as that woman likely felt long ago when I had a joke that I just had to tell.

Our words have power.

Hundreds of academics have shared with us warnings about the power our declarations carry:

  • “Handle them carefully, for words have more power than atom bombs.” –Pearl Strachan Hurd
  • “Words have energy and power with the ability to help, to heal, to hinder, to hurt, to harm, to humiliate, and to humble.” –Yehuda Berg
  • “A broken bone can heal, but the wound a word opens can fester forever.” –Jessamyn West
  • “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” Ephesians 4:29
  • “Kind speech and forgiveness are better than charity followed by injury…” Quran 2:263

Those of us who fancy ourselves as wordsmiths and have the force of the pen and the wagging tongue have a unique set of skills and responsibilities. We must use that power for good.

We cannot complain about others who tweet awful statements, start wars with their words, and make fun of others if we ourselves cannot tame the tiger within our own cage.

Our words have power.

Let’s use that power to build each other up instead of tear each other down…even if it’s just a joke.