More than a year has passed since I wrote the article “Words Matter.” Through that article, I shared how my kids would play a game where their powers are determined by the words they utter. My then eight-year-old daughter, with her significantly superior vocabulary compared to her much younger sibling, can say a lot more. She can summon fire to melt ice, make flowers bloom to signify a new beginning, and surround herself with a force field to protect her from the attacks of her sister. Her sister, who was only three at that time, can only summon “Ice”! This little one got annoyed so much, because her limited words hindered her from being able to compete with her sister.
Yesterday, as I was waiting to board a plane flying south, I received a call from my eldest daughter. She needed help with an essay she wrote about herself, particularly describing her strengths and flaws. Part of her essay talks about how she loves and cares for her sisters, even though they can be “annoying” at times. The former three-year-old who could only summon “Ice!” can now say so much more. “I am not annoying!” was what I heard from the other line. It brought a smile to my face, as I can only imagine her arms crossed, lips pouted, and brows furrowed, as she passionately sprouted those words to her ate. Such cuteness, despite the seething anger I can sense as I sat at the airport.
Words matter, yes they do. Words matter, because unspoken words cannot conjure the power that lives in them if kept silent. Words matter, because they can provide hope in spite of the bleakness that surrounds us. Words matter, because the absence of such may cause regret when such words would not matter anymore.
Words matter for everyone. But, for those whose sphere of influence is greater, words should matter more. This was not the first time my second daughter heard her older sister refer to her as annoying. But, as my ten-year-old’s influence over her sister expands as days go by, that single word now carries much more weight. It pierces deeper; it lingers longer.
Similarly, as we broaden and deepen our influence in whatever work or career we pursue, our words matter much more. This is why celebrities or social media influencers get praise or flak from the public,
simply because of what they say or not say. This is the reason why we cannot compare the uncouth words of an ordinary university student with that of a powerful government official. One is but a whisper in a crowded train station, while the other is a shout that echoes throughout the land. Same words, but one is exponentially more impactful.
Imagine your same self as a young staff member, fresh out of university, full of ideas and filled with ideals. You share your thoughts at every given opportunity. Regardless of who hears those words, those words will be taken as they are, as another suggestion that carries with it its own pros and cons. Now imagine your same self as a leader of an organization, still full of ideas, filled with ideals now tempered by realism. You still share your thoughts at every given opportunity. This time, however, those words carry much more weight. People hearing those words would treat them differently. It would no longer be one of those suggestions. It will now be the suggestion coming from a leader of an organization.
What is the implication? As our words carry greater weight, our words should, therefore, come from a place that is measured and examined. The more those words should not come from a place of hate or resentment. It should now bear more responsibility to the speaker of those words to be more mindful of the words delivered.
What then? Shall we speak less as our careers progress? Do so only if you live your life in fear: fear of being held accountable for your words, fear of being rejected, fear of what those words might bring. Withholding your words may shield you from being criticized, but it also denies the people reached by your influence the power in those words and the hope they may bring. Let not our words be silenced by these fears.
Words matter more as you progress in life. May we not cower in fear as our responsibility in speaking our words increases. If you have the appropriate words, speak them, write them, never hold them back. This is true in our earlier days, much more true as we mature.
The word “annoying” hurt her younger sister, but words also made it possible to make the younger one laugh as she says “I will pick you up if you fall… but right after I laugh.” Sister War 3000 was then averted.
Anton Ng is a Partner of the Audit & Assurance P&A Grant Thornton is one of the leading Audit, Tax, Advisory, and Outsourcing firms in the Philippines, with 21 Partners and over 900 staff members. We’d like to hear from you! Tweet us: @PAGrantThornton, like us on Facebook: P&A Grant Thornton, and email your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. For more information, visit our Website: www.grantthornton.com.ph.
As published in The Manila Times, dated 19 June 2019