It’s long overdue that we let go of words from our past.

The Bee Gee’s recorded the song “Words” in 1967 when I was three and wasn’t released on an album (those are the old, flat, black, pizza-shaped things we used to listen to music from) until 1968. Ed Sullivan had the guys on his show to perform it when I was four in 1968. I’m afraid I missed it. I probably had important Tinker toy structures to build. It never made it higher than 15 on the Billboard Hot 100. So why all the backstory information about this falsetto-singing group’s No. 1 hit in Germany, Switzerland and the Netherlands? Simple, it’s the words.

The chorus of the song includes the repeated line, “It’s only words, and words are all I have” and if you’ve heard the song you know this lines sticks with you whether you want it to or not. As most catchy things are, this song is pretty simple; really only three verses and then the oft-repeated chorus to close it out. The thing is, words, like this chorus, resonate with us; sometimes too much.

Nearly forty years later I can recall being humiliated by an eighth grade girl’s derision regarding my complexion and build (“beanpole” was, I believe, her assessment). I can recall nearly thirty years later my father’s curiosity, wondering when I became such a hard-ass. I suppose that one stuck with me because at the time I didn’t realize I was being a hard-ass (I was) and didn’t consider myself one. You may not all be like me and I hope you’re not. I hope that rude remarks roll off you like water off a duck’s back. I hope that words that surprise you and make you think ultimately inform and reform your life. What I hope doesn’t happen is that the words of others hang around your neck like some anchor drowning you in their judgment.

I recently read another writer’s blog where she stated that a supervisor told her she was “unlikable” and that furthermore, no one liked her on the team. When I read this I thought “Wow, that’s a little harsh and unfounded. How does the supervisor know how much everyone likes this person?” so I was empathetic toward the author. I’ve been coached well by my spouse how to offer constructive criticism along with possible solutions to situations. This approach was not one of the lessons I’ve learned. I hoped that the author of this blog would go on to say that they tactfully pointed those things out and asked for solutions. I hoped that the person criticized would make an effort to perhaps be more friendly or engaged toward their co-workers and not let this label stick. Unfortunately that wasn’t the case.

The writer went on to say that their supervisor’s assessment confirmed their belief that they were unlikable. They cited several examples of how they didn’t get along with people in their office and how they were never included in informal get-togethers, lunches or conversations. The writer made the case that this was their lot in life and then they dropped the bomb on my whole train of thought. Their words surprised me. This conversation, this assessment? It happened over 20 years ago. My initial, gut reaction was, “What a waste.”

What a waste of 20 years, feeling, believing that they were unlikable. What a waste of potential friendships they could have developed. What a waste of joy that is only attainable in the company of others. What a waste, and all because of the words from an unprofessional, undiplomatic and unhelpful supervisor. Thing is, it’s not all that supervisor’s fault. Remember, the writer said it confirmed their opinion. That’s huge.

Too often we pick and choose words that solidify the argument we’ve been having with ourselves whether for good or bad. Clearly we should hang onto genuinely encouraging words. We should use them to support us and lift us up when the winds of life blow strongest in our faces. Positive words are a Godsend in our lives. But those negative ones? The ones that chime in with “Yeah, what he said, you suck!” should be flushed, burned, buried and obliterated shortly after we receive them. Can they offer sometimes constructive and helpful criticism? Of course they can and they should. Should we carry them around with their hurtfulness for years? Heck no! So today, this Thursday, is my independence day.

Today I will summarily get rid of the old crap I’ve been hauling around all these years. I will quit referring back to it when I’m feeling down in the dumps, depressed or beaten up by life. I will refuse to let it define me any longer. After all I’ve changed just a bit in 30 or 40 years and after all, they’re only words.

This was a sticky subject for me; one I think tends to be for a lot of people. The old cliché “Sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me” is a load of baloney as far as I’m concerned. Words hurt. But they shouldn’t serve as judge and jury. I hope this helped you get out from under them if they’re keeping you down and if you know someone that might benefit from my words I hope you’ll pass this along.

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