I believe in the power of words. What someone says— or doesn’t say— can change a mood, change a point of view, or even change a life. I will always remember the first time a boy told me I was beautiful, and I will never forget the time my best friend told me she didn’t want to see me ever again. My mother’s life changed forever when my father asked her to marry him, and I wouldn’t be here today if he had stayed silent. Words can be the most powerful weapons or the nicest complements. While parents and teachers may stress looking for the good in everyone, I don’t think that is enough. I always try to look for the good in people, and then tell them—why should I keep the complement to myself?
Six years ago, I was given the amazing opportunity to travel to South Africa. During our trip, a young doctor from the country traveled with us. He was one of those guys that can walk into a room and make friends with anyone. We became friends and, when I got sick, he did everything he could to make me better as soon as possible. I had a great time, thanks to him. When we all got back to the United States, everything went back to normal. But, around Christmas, my mom took me aside during school to tell me that our friend from South Africa had been murdered. He was gay, and two people had broken into his apartment and beat him to death. My first thought was, “How could anyone be so cruel to such an amazing person?” but my second thought was “I will never get to speak with him again”. The feeling was so awful, and I immediately regretted everything I had not said. I had laughed at his jokes, but never told him he was funny. I had gotten over my sickness in a week, but I never told him that he would be a great doctor someday. I had smiled when he remembered someone’s birthday, but never told him how nice and compassionate he was. It just seemed so obvious, I assumed other people would tell him those kinds of things all the time. But I could never be sure.
I remember my friend by making sure that I tell people the things I like about them. I try to remember what it was like for me in my first year of high school when I was very shy and didn’t have many friends. Sometimes when an upperclassman would notice me or say hello, I would feel happy for the rest of the day, so I try to do the same for others. Most of all, I believe that everyone deserves to have that memory of the time someone gave them a hug when they needed it most, or simply said hello in passing. The power of words can make or break someone’s day, and I like to believe that someday everyone will speak out.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.