In theological and scientific circles, the words creation and evolution are used in reference to the origins of the universe. How did our world and surrounding solar systems come to be? At the risk of being overly simplistic, they generally mean:
- Creation – the world was immediately and instantly brought into existence
- Evolution – the world gradually evolved into more complex states of existence
Remember, I warned you that these definitions would be overly simplistic. But the point of this post isn’t to debate the origins of the universe but to show how our words (those we use and those directed towards us) shape our personal and collective world.
Little children discover the power of words the moment they learn their first words. They quickly realize that saying a familiar sound can direct and redirect attention. And every parent remembers when their children discovered the wonders of saying “no.” Do you want a green bean? No. It’s time for bed. No.
We learn how to form words using the alphabet, then we fashion them into sentences. We clap out the syllables. If we’re fortunate, we even learn how to use proper grammar!
But words are more than letters grouped together and used in sentences.
As we taught both of our daughters, words have meaning. When the letters AQRSF are grouped together, that’s gibberish. But when you take LVOE and reorder them as LOVE, that means something. So does the arrangement of HATE. Because words have meaning, they are also powerful. Saying “I love you” feels vastly different than “I hate you” – both to the person speaking and the receiver.
As a parent, husband, leader, and communicator, I’ve seen how our words can do tremendous good … or have a devastating effect. In short, I’ve seen how our words shape our world. Which brings me back to the ideas of creation and evolution. When it comes to how our words shape our world, it’s not a matter of being either creation or evolution – I believe it is both.
Do you have one conversation that you replay over and over? Do you remember a specific moment of criticism? I’ve done enough counseling and coaching to know that the words of a parent or teacher can be life-shaping. An unfortunate word uttered in a moment of anger can stick longer after the argument ends.
- “You’re stupid.”
- “I want a divorce.”
- “Why can’t you be more like your brother?”
- “I don’t love you anymore.”
- “I wish you were never born.”
In an instant, a new world begins to take shape. “Maybe I am stupid.” The new world might take the shape of rebellion, laziness, and low self-regard. Or, it’s just as possible that it might become perfectionism, overachieving, and an unhealthy need to always be right. While many other factors are involved, don’t underestimate the power of words.
The late Karen Carpenter developed a deadly eating disorder because she had been reading magazines that talked about her weight. Words matters because words have meaning.
It’s just as possible, however, that our words can create a new, better world that didn’t previously exist. An ancient Hebrew saying reminds us that “a gentle answer turns away wrath” (Proverbs 15:1). The right word said at the right moment can change the direction of a conversation. It literally can change your world … immediately.
Think about the world-shaping impact of these phrases:
- “I believe you can do it.”
- “I appreciate the hard work you put into this.”
- “I’m proud of you.”
- “I am sorry.”
- “I forgive you.”
- “I love you no matter what.”
Not all personal and social worlds are created instantly. Some are the result of repetitive exposure to a way of thinking. These forces, however slight they may be in the moment, gradually reshape your world when applied consistently over time. It’s like breathing second-hand smoke. While you may not be a smoker, your odds of developing cancer increase the more closely and consistently you are exposed to cigarette smoke. Over time, the carcinogens in the other person’s smoke begin to impact you.
This is why good parents are concerned with who their children are choosing for friends. It’s why good workers leave toxic work cultures. The words to which we are consistently exposed will eventually leave an imprint.
Without a strong internal compass, an impressionable teenager (or adult) may begin to believe lies about themselves or others. Prejudices and stereotypes are more evolutionary in nature than created in an instant. Can they be formed immediately? I imagine so, but that’s not often the case. It’s often the repeated exposure to unhealthy words, phrases, and even jokes that shapes the prejudice.
Positive words repeated over time can have the opposite effect. Perhaps a student doesn’t immediately believe the teacher who tells her, “You can do this.” In other words, a single phrase spoken only one time may not refashion her belief in her abilities. But repeated over time (and in different ways), the student may gradually begin to believe these things to be true. (Likewise, one utterance of “you’re stupid” may not shape a lifetime, but when repeated enough it might).
It’s why athletic teams and business divisions talk about the important of culture. We shape our culture through our words and actions, and then our culture continues to shape us.
As you think about the personal and collective world you wish to inhabit, don’t overlook the power of your words and those that you listen to.
Experience and Background
- 25+ years of senior leadership experience
- masters in business administration (mba)
- presenter at the WFX National Conference
- former president, Church Planters of the Rockies
- helped start 2 for-profit tech companies
To get a better feel for my style and personality, you can watch past sermons on our YouTube channel.
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