“You’re stupid” “You smell!” “You’re ugly!”
Children (and adults) can carelessly say the most stupid of things sometimes not realising the lasting impact on the unfortunate recipient of these words. We can laugh off children’s comical antics, or we can join in the gossip at work or even insensitively say something discouraging directly to that irritating person’s face (the one who’s always getting in your way and seems to be lacking any sort of social awareness), but have we really, truly thought about the effect before letting those words slip through our mouth?
How about we flip negativity on its head and explore the result?
Could it really be true that the words we choose to speak over each other have the power to transform lives?
In the 1990s, a Japanese researcher Dr. Masaru Emoto conducted a series of experiments on the effect of words, prayers, music and environment on the crystalline structure of water. The water over which positive words were spoken formed beautiful, symmetric structures when frozen. However, the water which received negative words formed ugly, asymmetric shapes. Quite some thought when we think that the human body is made up mostly of water! Whether we believe this experiment is entirely accurate or not, there is sure to be some truth in it and we ourselves can feel the impact on our own bodies when someone speaks a negative word versus a word of encouragement.
I look back over my life and reflect on what got me to where I am today. I have seen remarkable transformation in my own life and the markers, the ‘kairos’ moments which substantiate these changes, whether small and gradual or whether more dramatic, have been those wise people who, knowing the value of the words they speak, have intentionally used words to propel me towards becoming the person I was always meant to be. In short, they saw the gold in me and called it out. It is well known that children will rise to the bar their parents, teachers or other significant authority figure set on their lives and as adults, we are still carry that same basic need to be believed in.
In 1964, an experiment was conducted by Harvard professor Robert Rosenthal on the effects of teacher expectations on academic performance. In this study all students in a single California elementary school were given a disguised IQ test at the beginning of the experiment. The teachers were not told of these scores but were told that some of their students (chosen at random) could be expected to be “intellectual bloomers” that year. The names of these “intellectual bloomers ” were made known to the teachers. Over the next two years, Rosenthal tracked the progress of the students. At the end of the study, all students were tested again with the same IQ-test. The students who the teachers had been told were the “intellectual bloomers” had a higher increase in IQ than the others students, despite the fact that there was nothing to distinguish them as being more intelligent from the others at the start of the experiment. The conclusion was that teacher expectations, and subsequently how they interact with the students, can influence achievement.
Positive words transform lives. And additionally, so does the way we treat people and interact with them.
I whole-heartedly believe in what we do here at the Sophie Hayes Foundation, running the Day 46 Programme. I attribute much of the success of the programme to the lense through which we choose to view all we come into contact with. We choose to see the women we work with as survivors, not victims. We choose to see hope in each situation, the potential in each precious life. We choose to see strong, powerful women who have a huge amount to offer others. We choose to believe that their past does not dictate their future. Sometimes we need to intuitively sense the need – what are the beliefs they have that are holding them back? Let’s smash those! Even if it is not in evidence on the surface yet, let’s look deep inside and draw out the gold that is inside each human being on this planet.
What I love most about Day 46 though is that it is a unique combination of the very practical elements of increasing employability and opportunity in addition to what I have described above. We specifically train our volunteers to be skilled in both the practical elements of running a programme but also in seeing the wealth of treasure in each person and drawing out the gold, speaking hope back into a life that has experienced destruction and despair. It is that winning combination that contributes towards a life being changed for the better.
So yes, I believe it really is true that the words we choose to speak over each other have the power to transform lives and I intend to use that knowledge to create change wherever I go, whether it’s at the pub with friends, at my workplace, buying last minute groceries from the local Sainsbury’s, or whether it’s facilitating a Day 46 programme. I challenge you to do the same and be amazed at the change you see in people as you do.
By Lorraine McIntyre