The Staying Power of Words

Maybe our words float up into the ether.

Maybe our words float up into the ether.

Do your fingers ever hover over the keyboard before you create a sentence or hit send? We might be able to assign a few more seconds of hesitation to the “writing, posting” process than the speed of which WORDS come out of our mouths. In either case, words have staying power. On the internet they are almost forever. Politicians and pundits have alerted us that tweets can be deleted–but not really. What was said is OUT THERE.

Maybe fifteen years ago, I started to believe that every word I said (and that lead me to believe the words of everyone who has lived on this earth) is floating around in the ether somewhere. My words of love were there; my questions. And so were my angry words, my vindictive words. So were the taunts I overcame and the angry words of others that I experienced.

But on an even higher level, my words of love or those of anyone–parents, scholars, writers–were struggling against the words of folks gone wrong–like Hitler and Mussolini–their words challenging those of Jesus and Buddha, thinkers and philosophers. There is not room on the page to create a list of humanity’s ideas that grapple with other ideas, words.

And I think this concept could be scientific fact–though that’s not my forte. The idea also smacks of some psychological fact. Ask a counselor or a psychologist, psychiatrist. People spend years aching, hurting, burning over words said to them by their parents,  other family members, friends or a person they bump into on the street.

Yesterday, while listening to a podcast, Brene Brown told the story of an artist who offered his mother a drawing at the tender age of eleven. She was about to hang it on the fridge (which all mothers know is the first place of honor) when the boy’s father walked in. “You’re not planning to become some faggot artist are you?” Did the picture get hung, did the boy go on to draw more? No–not until he was in his fifties. Words have staying power. They float around in the ether and become indelible memory. They do damage. They can’t be taken back. Amended? Maybe. But does that work?

You might not agree with my theory about the ether–but everyone who draws breath has a memory of a word or words that they either try to forget because of some hurt or long to remember because it sent them on a positive life-journey.


  • might be a good idea to linger over the keyboard before hitting send
  • give yourself a time-out before responding to a text, email or voicemail that riles you up
  • sometimes the message can still be delivered but with the proper word choice (sorry I believe that PC has its positive effects)

How fascinating if in a story or a novel, a person walks into a room and encounters a barrage of words floating in the ether that uplift him and encourage him to fulfill a quest. How fascinating if the memory of one word (and not faggot but artist) propelled an eleven-year-old boy to take art classes in high school, only to go on to be able to sell his art and help take care of his mother and his father when their health was failing. (Love that change in the story.)

We, as people, are all about stories, all about words. Yesterday, while singing as loudly as I could during a church service, I pictured my “song words” lifting up through the high ceiling and blowing out into the ether and I hoped they would do some good, push away words of discouragement and anger, words that support the viciousness and debilitating partisanship that is so much of our current culture.

Words have staying power and I want mine to be remembered with “encouragement” and “hope” attached to them. So please have a great week and thanks to author Laura Drake who brought the words of author Madeleine Engle to me today:

The author and the reader “know” each other; they meet on the bridge of words.

Photos: Thanks to and

The Staying Power of Words

Words form a bridge between us.

24 thoughts on “The Staying Power of Words

  1. I agree with this 100% Beth! I think it’s true of the situations and characters we create, too. Even if it’s just fiction, if we put violence and hate into the world, I think we need to use it for positive change, not just add to the chaos. Our words have power. We need to use them wisely.

    • Thanks, Anne. We are simpatico on lots of things. I hope life is going well for you. Are your roses blooming?? Beth

  2. This is an interesting BOOMER HIGHWAY, as it certainly brings one to stop and think of what some of our presidential nominees do in the way of putting words and ideas out into the ether, and never seem to reach back and interpret them the same way they were originally stated. This would be a great BOOMER for several of these nominees to take to heart. It is also a good idea for those of us in the normal sector of society to adhere to, so that we are sure to remember when having disagreements with loved ones or friends to never say anything that you cannot take back. Words can become very lasting. THANKS, Beth!!!!!!!

  3. I love this.
    I love words.
    I love that we have the power to build bridges by writing the right words.

  4. I agree completely. When I get a text or email that just rubs me the wrong way I always try to take a second to think about my reply, once you hit send there is no getting it back.

  5. I would love to see a comic bubble of what some person is thinking or going to say to me in networking events or parties or when meeting new people. Sometimes people are on their best behavior in these circumstances and wish this same good behavior could be extended to texts and emails and responses.

    • Wow, Haralee–this idea would make a great post. And you are totally right. My experience: I’m in conversation with someone and I begin to see they can’t wait to either change the conversation or end it all together. Bottom line–we are human. Thanks for your comment.

  6. So many have become reactive and sloppy with their words. I’ve found that responding with kindness, even to hurtful words of others, is magical and transformative. Thanks for posting.

    • Pennie, going to check out your site. You are SO RIGHT. In the end, extending kindness can possibly help. If not, you can walk away knowing that you tried. But often it can be magical and transformative. Love you comment.

  7. Such a beautiful and inspirational post, Beth.

    I love the images you paint with your words – both negative and positive. This post is a potent reminder to cherish, to uplift, to support and to sing using the power of words.

    Thank you for this beautiful post.

    Speaking of Words (& Pictures), have you seen that movie with Clive Owen and Juliette Binoche? It presents an interesting question.

    • Yes, yes!! I did see and I remember talking to my husband about you and how amazing you are. I love Juliette Binoche and it’s so fun to share things with you. Thanks for you support, Marianna. It means a lot. Beth

  8. Wonderful words of wisdom Beth, you are so right in saying words once said are always – out there – somewhere. How often I try to remember where I have heard something before. I know how easy it is to make an error and hit send on a comment and its off into cyberspace…I am human, sometimes I can edit, sometimes its gone for good. When speaking I have tried to use an acronym I learned. THINK – T- is it thoughtful, H, is it helpful, I – is it intelligent, N – is it necessary, and K- is it kind? If I am hurt by someone’s words, I try not to react but pause and use this before I respond. I don’t always succeed but I try to be kind and give someone the benefit of the doubt. And not responding if I can’t do the above. Thanks for this beautiful post Beth!

    • Wow, Carol, I love the acronym THINK. Fascinating and so very true. I will have to remember that. Often it is hard to give someone who has said a hurtful think the benefit of the doubt. But in the end, it’s probably the best way to end the discussion. as always, love your ideas.

  9. Love this… I often think about the power of words..both mine and the unfortunate ones from my childhood that lingered far too long.
    Thanks for giving me an opportunity to think about the choices we have when using our words!

    • Hi Walker, thanks for reading and commenting today. I hope life is going well for you. YOUR WORDS helped make my day, Beth

  10. Beth, I actually re-read what I wrote to you, and although the H in the THINK acronym is helpful, the original one as I remember it now was HONEST. That may be even more impressive. Either one however, is so good to remember. I am trying to do this now with my son. …

    • Sometimes when we are supporting someone we want to sugar coat things, but you are right and from your background, Carol, you know IT’S BEST TO BE HONEST. I hope he is hearing you and that your mutual support of one another continues. What a journey life is. Beth

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