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When I was younger, I often heard the phrase, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” As I have grown older, I have realized the great inaccuracy of that statement. Recently, Crossnore employees could order shirts and hoodies with several different designs. One of those designs was a shirt that said, “Words Matter.” Of course, I bought it. Because this is a phrase I have come to know and live by, and is a much more accurate saying than that flippant one of my childhood.

When I am happy and excited, my words matter. When I am sad, depressed, and anxious, my words matter. When I am angry, hurt, and mad, my words matter. And the words that are said to me in these situations matter just as much. 

Using our feel-ters.

Some people claim they have no filter. They just say whatever comes to mind, and it seemingly pops out, supposedly out of their control. But I like to think we all have a “feel-ter,” and that many of us just fail to use it. The feel-ter is that mechanism within our brain that causes us to react to certain situations without thinking about our response or how it will affect others. Sometimes our words can come out raw and hurtful because of our reactionary feelings. But because this is a behavioral response, if we take just a moment, our feel-ter can prompt us to change our words into more positive ones that build others up.

Words that everyone needs to hear.

I wish, when I came out as a lesbian, people would have known how much their words mattered to me. Growing up in a very conservative church, the last thing I wanted to hear was how my way of living was going to send me to hell. Out of fear of retribution and feelings of guilt, I kept my way of life a secret for as long as I could. For a while my life was lonely until I realized that there will never be people who accept me for who I am, and that is okay. As I got older, I came to fully understand that God loves us all, and that those were the words hurting people needed to hear. 

Kathy, as a Resident Director, at Warner University.

Words that made all the difference.

As a Resident Director in College, I started living and believing that my words mattered. And when one of the students came out to me, I realized that they needed to experience my acceptance. Thankfully, I have been lucky enough to have acceptance in my own life too. I have learned, over the years, that those individuals who knew me in college, even once I came out, never changed how they felt about me. Their words have always reflected love and acceptance. That has made all the difference in my life.

Group of four women in late 70s/early 80s clothes with Hawaiian lays around their necks, arms around each other smiling
Kathy (third from left), as a college student, with a group of friends.

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to talk with three Black siblings. One is the “protector” of his siblings, one identifies as lesbian, and one identifies as pansexual. I sat there and listened, really listened, to their story about their lives and the different types of discrimination they’ve faced, the discrimination they still face. One happened to notice something sticking out of my pocket. They stopped and said, “Hey, is that a pride keychain?” I responded that it was. They looked at me intently then, and I knew that the words I said going forward were really going to matter to them. 

two women with short haircuts in t-shirts sitting in a booth at a restaurant smiling
Kathy (right) with her partner of 20 years, who passed away in 2014.

The power of our words.

Remembering the power of our words is so important. They can build up or completely tear down. At Crossnore, and everywhere, it is important to remember that our words matter. They matter to the child who is acting out due to trauma. They matter to the teenager who is suicidal. They matter when we interact with the coworkers and shift partners who sometimes aggravate us. 

No one is responsible for our actions or our words but us. We make a choice every day whether or not to use our “feel-ter” to change lives for the better or to destroy them. May we all realize that our words can be used as sticks and stones, causing damage to those around us. Or our words can be balm for wounded hearts and light for weary souls. Our words matter. Let’s make them count.

woman with words matter hoodie on facing camera
Kathy, today, Assistant Residential Director on our Avery campus, in her Words Matter sweatshirt.