I remember chanting this iconic rhyme as a pudgy 12 year old, not so much to fend off the bullies who were teasing me about being fat, but more to try to convince myself that their harsh words couldn’t hurt me.
Can I just say something here? That whole “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me” thing is complete crap. A big, fat lie. Sure, sticks and stones hurt, but those wounds heal. The wounds inflicted by words last much, much longer.
I bring this up for two reasons: (1) My relationship with the words used to hurt me about my weight, and (2) the overall power that words have, and how we can use them to help us or hinder us.
I was teased mercilessly when I was a kid. Kids called me many names, but the ones that stuck had to do with my weight. While I wasn’t fat, I definitely had a bit of baby fat that stuck around until junior high. But, those words I heard as a pre-teen stuck, and I eventually began to believe those mean voices. Even though I wasn’t fat, I saw myself as such. Fast forward to my twenties. I found myself married to a man who was often heard saying, “I’d love you if you were thinner.” Ouch. All of those words added up, causing unseen wounds that damaged me more than any physical violence ever could have.
It has taken me a lot of hard work to overcome the scars those words left. But that’s not why I bring it up. No, I mention this because I just realized the creative power possessed by those words. When I was being tormented in grades 9 and 10, with kids calling me “fat,” I was, in fact, not fat at all. I stood at about 5’9″ and weighed 160-165 lbs. That means my BMI was around 24 – by all means, a very healthy weight. But now? Well, let’s just say I’m not a healthy weight and my BMI needs some serious attention.
Think about this: The words were spoken. I believed the words. I became fat. Words are incredibly powerful things. They have such an amazing ability to create. This is why I start each day with some very healthy, positive words each morning after my yoga work out.
I recently read don Miguel Ruiz’s The Four Agreements. His first agreement is “be impeccable with your words,” since words are so powerful:
“Your word is the power that you have to create. Your word is the gift that comes directly from God… Through the word you express your creative power. It is through the word that you manifest everything… The word is not just a sound or a written symbol. The word is a force; it is the power you have to express and communicate, to think, and thereby to create the events in your life… But like a sword with two edges, your word can create the most beautiful dream, or your word can destroy everything around you.” (The Four Agreements p. 26)
Before I encountered this book, I never really thought about the magic power of words. I’m sure I had a sense of it; as a teacher, I suppose I’ve always known that the words I tell my students have great power. Since becoming aware of Ruiz’s Four Agreements, and trying to put them into practice, I have endeavoured to be impeccable with my words. I’m not perfect, and sometimes I’m not as careful with my words as I could be. But the best part of the Four Agreements is that last agreement: Always Do Your Best. Slowly but surely, my words are creating a much more beautiful life for myself.
When I began, I focused on being impeccable with my words towards others; I try to speak kindly about others and avoid gossiping. I have definitely noticed a difference in my relationship with others. Lately, I’ve been focusing on being more aware with the words I tell myself. Slowly, I’m beginning to see myself in a different light.
I wonder what would happen if I just started thinking of myself as an athlete? If I heard the words “You’re fat” so many times that I began to believe it, and then it came true, couldn’t the same happen in the other direction? What if I harnessed the creative power of words to create a more fit, healthier me? Sure, it may not be true…. yet. But the more I tell myself that I am fit, strong, healthy, active and athletic, the healthier, stronger and more active I will become! Isn’t that amazing?!
(This has absolutely nothing to do with my whole “Fit By 40” theme, but it does illustrate my point)
I can’t help but wonder how this applies to my profession. What if, as a teacher, my words had the ability to create the atmosphere in my classroom. What if I, when talking about my students, I said things like, “My kids are amazing! They are creative, energetic, curious, and social.” What type of class would that create? On the other hand, if I always said, “Oh my god, my class is insane. They are so messy, they never sit still, they don’t shut up and listen. I’ve had it.” I wonder how that would effect the atmosphere in my classroom? Sure, it sounds like one of those “which came first? the chicken or the egg?” type of questions… but with my understanding of how amazing words are, I can’t help but think that the way I talk about my students can affect their behaviour.
To be honest, in my short career as a school teacher, I have observed this already. I’ve heard teachers sing the praises of their students, and I’ve heard teachers moaning about how terrible their kids are. I honestly can’t help but wonder if the teacher’s words create some of the problems in their class. All the more reason to be impeccable with my words.