One day in class, a university professor instructed his students to take out a piece of paper and write the word “Jesus” on it. He then dropped the paper on the ground, stepped on it, and instructed his class to do the same. Most of the class hesitated to step on the paper, and many declined to do so at all. Many students were outraged…one even threatened to punch the professor. The professor was immediately suspended by the university. So, why were so many people so upset about a word on a piece of paper? It was just a word…on a piece of paper…what was the big deal?
What if someone told you to do the same thing? Or, what if they told you to write your mother’s name on the paper…or your significant other…or America? And then told you to step on it? Would you do it? Would you be upset? Why? It is just a piece of paper…with a word on it…what is the big deal?
The big deal is…words are more than just a string of letters put together. Words are more than just "words"…they have meaning…deep personal meaning…and different words mean different things to different people. “Words create filters through which people view the world around them” (Schafer, 2010). Most importantly, words have power…. great power. Words have the power to hurt and also the power to heal…the power to break down and the power to build up.
“Words are not meant to stir the air only: they are capable of moving great things.” –Natsume Soseki
So why am I telling you this? Yesterday I experienced the true power of words and the impact of that power...words used carelessly…words that hurt and broke down an unsuspecting woman. The woman is named Jennifer and she was out for her morning run... wearing headphones. Two people came up alongside of her, and speaking to one another assuming Jennifer could not hear because of the headphones, made disparaging remarks about Jennifer’s weight and appearance. Sadly, Jennifer heard every mean, hateful, and harmful word. She immediately stopped running and left…feeling like a failure.
“A knife may scar the body but a careless word will wound the soul.” –Bangambiki Habyarimana
Jennifer is a member of an online running group I belong to and she recounted her story in our online forum. Her words were powerful and went straight to the hearts of the members of the group.
“Words have the power to destroy or heal. When words are both true and kind, they can change the world.” –Buddha
Soon after Jennifer’s post the group page was flooded with kind and uplifting words…powerful words…of love and support for Jennifer. These words were written from the heart and it was truly awe inspiring to see this amazing group of people band together from a place of kindness and love to “move great things.” Soon it was suggested that we wear red (the color Jennifer was wearing when she had her encounter) and run some miles for Jennifer…in solidarity. Yesterday and today hundreds of people, together in mind and heart, united in the spirit of kindness and unconditional love, logged hundreds of miles for a person they had never met in person. People posted their pictures, selfies in red clothing, with more words of kindness and encouragement for Jennifer with the hashtag #runforjennifer.
“Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless.” –Mother Teresa
Today I donned a red running shirt and ran my miles for our Jennifer, and all of the “Jennifers” out in the world who are broken down by people who abuse the power of words. Today a group of people…people who have never met in person…joined together and showed that love and kindness win out every time! When you realize the awesome power of words, you can move great things!