Words that Transform Lives

power of words

The old adage “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” is well-intentioned but untrue. Words have immense power – the power to uplift or destroy, encourage or discourage, empower or defeat.

As psychologists, we understand deeply the impact words can have on the human mind and spirit.

The story of inventor Thomas Edison and his mother Nancy illustrates how a few simple words altered the course of history.

The Story of Thomas Edison

As an eight-year-old boy, Thomas Edison came home from school distraught one day.

His teacher had sent a note home to his mother Nancy, which she read with tears as young Thomas looked on anxiously. “What does it say?” he asked hesitantly. Nancy embraced her son and said it called him a genius whose school was too small and teachers too inadequate for his brilliance.

She would educate him herself from then on. Thus, Nancy became her son’s primary teacher and mentor.

Under her nurturing care, Thomas flourished intellectually. By age 15 he was working as a telegraph operator, and at 16 he created his first invention.

He went on to hold more than 1,000 patents in his lifetime.

Many years later, Edison stumbled across the actual note from his teacher. To his shock, it said her son was “mentally diseased” and could not return to school.

Edison wept over his mother’s deception, then wrote in his diary, “Thomas Alva Edison was a mentally ill child, but thanks to a heroic mother became the genius of the century.”

Nancy had transformed harsh words into uplifting motivation for her son. Her small act of willful misrepresentation drastically changed Edison’s self-perception and the direction of his life.

The Transformative Power of Our Words

As Nancy Edison’s story proves, the words we use to speak to others carry incredible transformative power.

When she received that damning note from Edison’s teacher, she faced a choice. She could either convey its painful contents to her young son, confirming his worst fears and cementing labels of abnormality and inadequacy in his mind. Or she could consciously reframe the message to empower him.

Nancy chose the latter path. With one compassionate lie, she overwrote the teacher’s harsh judgment with praise and confirmation of her son’s talent.

This instantly reoriented Edison from a defeated outcast to a confident scholar. Nancy’s words gave wings to her son’s fledgling genius and set his life on a radically different trajectory.

Of course, Nancy’s approach held risks. Her deception could have damaged their bond of trust had Edison eventually learned the truth as a bitter, discouraged youth.

Additionally, sugarcoating critical feedback rarely leads to growth. However, in this instance, the adage “what you don’t know can’t hurt you” held.

Nancy made a wise decision given the circumstances, choosing sensitivity and encouragement over blunt criticism to a child already carrying labels of mental illness from his teacher.

The Dangers of Demeaning Words

Nancy Edison recognized a fact that too many fail to grasp – that words directly impact our psyche and self-image. When we hear phrases like “you can’t,” “you’ll never amount to anything,” “there’s something wrong with you,” we often unconsciously internalize those messages.

This is especially true for young children, who lack filters and maturity to process negative assessments.

Unfortunately, our culture celebrates criticizers rather than encouragers. We incorrectly assume that scolding, finger-pointing, and even shaming produce results and maturity. However, studies demonstrate that this has the opposite effect.

Labeling and criticism often become self-fulfilling prophecies. If enough voices tell us we’re losers, mental defectives, slow learners, etc., we’re likely to prove them right, not from defiance but from core belief.

Nancy Edison recognized this fact. Though undoubtedly upset by the teacher’s cruel analysis of her son, she focused not on its painful sting but rather on crafting an antidote message of empowerment.

She sought not to attack the critic but to utterly negate his words by replacing them with positive truths about her son.

In so doing, she redirected the trajectory of his life.


The Power of Encouragement

As parents, friends, neighbors, bosses, political leaders, pundits and politicians, we wield the power of words every day.

Let the example of Nancy Edison inspire us to use our words to uplift rather than crush souls. Though occasional correction and critique have their place in nurturing growth, these should be the exception rather than the norm.

Just as naturalists understand that organic systems thrive best in healthy rather than toxic environments, we must foster cultures and relationships rooted in affirmation rather than criticism or condemnation.

Seeds of greatness exist in all people, especially the young. Like Nancy, we can fan these seeds into flame – or douse them prematurely with careless words and false narratives.

Proven Benefits of Encouragement-Based Cultures

While few of us will raise prodigies like Thomas Edison, we all cross paths with impressionable, insecure, success-oriented people needing encouragement.

Emphasizing the following benefits of positive communication could help leaders better understand why criticism should be a rare tool, not the basis of office culture:

Increased Motivation and Production Research links encouragement to enhanced motivation and work output. For example, one study of Fortune 500 executives showed that managers conveying appreciation and support for employee skills saw 71% greater accuracy and 50% higher productivity from their teams.

Leaders should communicate gratitude, celebrate wins both large and small, reward initiative, and frequently recognize solid team players. This catalytically accelerates performance.

Improved Loyalty and Retention Workforces exposed to consistent appreciation and affirmation demonstrate greater organizational loyalty and lower turnover.

Who enjoys laboring month after month for a hypercritical boss who fails to notice progress? Most people yearn to have their efforts applauded and their growth reinforced.

Wise leaders make time to empower employees with spoken and written encouragement to deepen loyalty, satisfaction and tenure.

Enhanced Creativity and Problem-Solving Researchers have directly linked positive reinforcement to increased innovation, risk-taking and creative output.

Negative climates breed fear of failure, blocking the experimentation essential for trailblazing ideas. Genuine encouragement delivers the freedom to think outside boxes and sometimes fail forward.

Organizations serious about catalyzing creativity must root out fear-inducing managers unwilling to nurture innovation through appreciation.

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The Ripple Effects of Encouragement

Like Nancy Edison, we may not always see the fruits of simple words of encouragement spoken into others’ lives. However, their ripple effects spread wider than we know. Studies following individuals years after receiving positive mentorship and coaching reveal they pass encouragement onto dozens of others.

Though we may forget the compliments we extend, the uplifted rarely forget our gifts of language that strengthened their hands for future challenges. The right words at the right time can truly change destinies.

Of course, even the most affirming words have limits. Serious issues still require intervention and correction. Even in these situations, however, language set to destructive default settings requires urgent resetting. The manner of delivery must change, not just the message.

Restoring Broken Trust

In cases of relational hurts including deception, violence, or sexual abuse, for example, reconciling words alone cannot produce healing without changed behaviors.

Nevertheless, language retains the power to either help or severely hinder restoration.

Victims initially may not be emotionally capable of extending forgiveness, but the perpetrator can still communicate genuine remorse, empathy, understanding and commitment to growth.

These words plant seeds allowing trust and relationships to gradually rebuild.

In conclusion, may we all grasp the tongues reigns more tightly, recognizing words’ double-edged nature to either enrich or impoverish hearts. Like Nancy Edison, let’s master the art of redirection – hearing harmful labels but refusing to repeat them.

Where criticism must fall, let it land softened by gentleness, empathy and wisdom to redeem, not condemn.

As psychologists daily transforming lives, we above all understand words’ profound power. Let us wield our most mighty tool – language – to replace despair with hope, fear with courage, weakness with strength. In so doing, we partner with Nancy Edison in midwifing world-changers.

If you recognize the need for more positive communication in your family, workplace, or relationships, don’t delay – schedule a consultation today with Dr. Benejam to equip yourself with healthy communication strategies.

My proven approaches can transform toxic climates into cultures of empowerment benefitting all.

Request your appointment now by calling (561) 376-9699 / (305) 981-6434.