Grits and Purls

Spinning yarns about the grit of life

“Words, words, words—what powerful means
To make or break our dearest dreams”

Those are the opening lines in a poem that my maternal grandmother wrote to me when I was a little girl. I puzzled over her poem for years before I grew up enough to understand what she was saying. I had always heard that “sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never hurt me.” That little rhyme is so untrue, and I imagine that that it was first chanted by someone who had been deeply hurt by words and was trying valiantly to cover up the hurt.

“Words bring peace or ill-ease
It all depends on their kind and release”

Words are probably the most powerful tool at our disposal, and we can do great good or great harm with them. The three little words “I love you” are incredibly powerful. Because of those words and all that they stand for I have the love of my life, and together we have an incredible child. Even to this day, I tell my husband that I love him several times a day, and at night when he comes to bed, he always tells me that he loves me. When I talk on the phone to my Dad or my brother or sister, I always try to remember to say “I love you” before I say Goodbye.

We can build our children’s self esteem or tear it down by the words we use. Instead of “you are terrible.” We can say, “your behavior is unacceptable.” That way the child can easily understand that while you may not like her conduct, you can still love her. You have not torn her down with your words.

Rumors are nothing more than words, but they can have huge consequences. During my first year of college teaching, I taught a course designed to meet the laboratory science requirement for non-science majors. My course met at 1:00 p.m., right after lunch, and I had about ten football players enrolled in the class. They had practices through the lunch hour and were always showing up about five minutes late for class. Unfortunately, the classroom had only one entrance at the front of the class and was so full for that there was little space between the seats. So, when these rather large young men would come into class, they had to walk in front of me and between desks and students and backpacks, creating quite a disruption. One Friday I announced that I would be locking the door promptly at 1:00 p.m. and that no one would be allowed in after I had begun class.

On Monday I locked the door. The football players showed up late and could not get in the classroom. On Wednesday, I locked the door again. Again, the football players could not get into the classroom. Wednesday afternoon the football coach called me, and we discussed the situation. On Friday they players arrived on time, and they arrived on time for the rest of the semester. As a matter of fact, in my remaining years at that college I never had another problem with late students.

“Well, you know why, Dr. Arduengo, don’t you?” one of my senior biology majors asked when I commented on this.

“No, why?”

“Because every year during football camp before classes start, the older football players tell the incoming freshmen ‘Dr. Arduengo is a really neat professor, but don’t show up late for her class. She’ll lock you out, and the coach will back her up!’ You have a formidable reputation.”

Words. Because of words some of the biggest, burliest guys on campus feared a five-foot-one-and-a-half-inch tall female professor.

Words, words, words—what powerful means.

© 2008,2009 Michele Arduengo

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