Why do people feel that it is okay to give others unsolicited advice? Why do some people feel that they need to tell others what their futures will look like in terms of success or failure, when no one but God knows the future? I was just reading of a young girl who had a baby at age 12, and of how an older woman in her community told her that she would never amount to anything.
Yet, she would finish high school, go to college, and become a nurse. Instead of allowing the careless words of another to cause her to fail, she used those words as motivation to prove that woman wrong. But, not everyone can overcome the unnecessary and unhelpful words that someone feels perfectly fine to impart.
I have learned that what you say to children is so important to how they see themselves throughout their lives, and that if they are told enough times that they will never be anybody or anything, those words become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Someone may look back and say,”I told you that he/she wasn’t going to be nothing,” without ever considering that their careless words were the impetus for that child’s lifetime of pain and suffering.
We forget that every word that we speak to others have consequences, either positive or negative. Words that enter people’s ears settle into the deepest, most innermost parts of their souls and spirit, and they can help or hinder people’s ability to see themselves in a wonderful light. The Bible tells us that God will hold us accountable for the words we speak to others, for in Matthew 12:36, it states, “But I tell you, on the day of judgment people will have to give an accounting for every careless and useless word they speak.”
When I was thirteen years old, I was invited to the junior prom at my school. My mother bought me a pretty blue dress and my aunt, my father’s sister, decided that I needed to wear makeup. I have never liked wearing makeup, especially lipstick, and that day my aunt insisted that I wear a loud red shade of lipstick. When I saw myself in the mirror, I begged to take it off, but neither my mother nor my aunt would let me. Then, the unthinkable happened, as they boy never came for me.
My mother was upset at having paid for a dress that no one would see, and my aunt was mad that nobody would see her handiwork on my face. So, Mama, not considering how embarrassed I would be, told me to walk to the top of the street and stand so everyone could see my dress. I thought she was kidding, but she was dead serious! I started to cry, but the tears did not faze either one of them. I asked to at least take off the makeup, which further upset my aunt. She looked at me and the careless and useless words she spoke next had a huge impact on my life trajectory.
She said, “You will have to be smart, because you will have to take care of yourself in the future. You are no Sleeping Beauty, and you will never find a husband.” As I walked up the street toward the corner, those words sunk deep into my mind, soul, and spirit. I thought of them day and night for weeks. I realized that my aunt saw me as the ugliest girl in our neighborhood, one incapable of ever being wanted by a man. I stood on the corner for nearly an hour, as people passed by and stared at me as though I had lost my mind, but all I thought about was the fact that I would be alone for the rest of my life.
As the years went by, those words impacted how I saw myself and my sense of value and worth. I never forgot them. And even when the violence began in my marriages, I stayed longer than I should have because I worried that if I were to let go of the marriage, I might not get another chance for happiness. I thought that I should maybe consider myself lucky that someone had married me, against all the odds, and not be so picky about things like physical, mental, and emotional suffering.
But, thanks be to God, I finally came to a place where I had to excavate those words from my psyche, so that I could find peace in my soul and a belief that I was somebody. Life is a long journey, and it can be made even longer by the useless advice of another. When that person is someone whom you love and look up to, like a parent or an aunt or uncle, it is harder to ignore it, mainly because we value the opinions of the people we love. A total stranger saying the same things may not harm us as much.
I wrote before that my aunt apologized, but I don’t think I related that she laughed afterwards and said,” I guess you got married five times to prove me wrong!” But I assured her that that was not the case. I wanted so bad to tell her that yes my much-married self was the consequence of her words, but not in the way she thought. As much work as marriage is, no one in their right mind would keep doing it to prove a point. But, by then she was in her early eighties and I simply let it go, out of respect for her and because I realized that she would never believe that her words were so powerful that they nearly ruined by life forever.
So, I ask that we think about what we say to children and to others about their looks, intellect, body type, or what their future selves will be. WE DON’T KNOW THE FUTURE! If we cannot say anything positive that uplifts people, then let’s keep our opinions to ourselves. Never forget the power of words to hurt or heal. Indeed, Proverbs 18:21 states, “The tongue can bring death or life; those who love to talk will reap the consequences.”
Careless, idle, and useless words can kill the soul and spirit of another person, and, in similar ways, positive and helpful words can bring new life to the soul and spirit of a person who is struggling to see their value and worth. We must always be careful of what comes out of our mouths, and good intentions are not reason enough to cause unparalleled pain.