I was reading an issue of Family: Good Living, Better Parenting magazine this morning while waiting for my mom at the NUS MRI Centre. There was a short article entitled ‘Speak Wisely’ which spoke about the power of positive affirmation in parenting. As you can expect, the overwhelming tendency is for parents to focus on the negative and criticize the child when positive affirmation is what the child needs. Or so writes Dr. Hal Urban who got his PhD in ‘peak performance’ (I found that amusing :P).

He also wrote that words have become so overused in our lives that we have forgotten the power and influence that words wield… both the positive power to inspire and heal as well as the negative power to hurt and cause psychological and emotional damage. That article reminded me of the film I Not Stupid 2 which emphasized repeatedly the message that we should build on what’s positive in people rather than condemning them for what’s negative.

I pondered on Words. And I was thinking, that while we often hear the reminder that good advice is often hard to swallow and that sweet words are often not trustworthy, we also often forget that some of the most powerful words are words of love and affirmation, and that a lot of needless pain and damage are inflicted through negative words.

The crux, I think, does not lie in whether or not the words are themselves pleasant or not to hear. But where does it lie? I am not yet sure myself. But I do know that words weave a web over people… negative words of unconstructive criticism, anger and impatience weave a toxic atmosphere which attacks people’s self-esteem and sense of well-being. Positive words of affirmation and love give life, energy and encouragement and build people’s self-esteem. This may all seem very trite… for countless psychologists and self-help books have repeated this principle ad infinitum. And yet, I can’t help wonder, how many of us actually make the effort to scrutinize the use of this potent ‘weapon’ of speech?

We are, all of us, both the person that wields speech and the person that receives speech. What caveats do we need to remember as the person that speaks? What other caveats should we note as the person who listens?

I must speak words of truth, justice and love. If I do not make it a point to make my words kind, I do not speak with love. If I fail to speak truth for fear of causing hurt, I also do not love. Yet, as the speaker, I should never fail to be kind in words, for truth will deliver its rightful punch regardless. What I just need to remember is: do I give life when I speak? Or do I sap life away?

How about when I listen? How often have I shut my ears and heart because what I hear causes me discomfort or pain? Do I pause to reflect on why there is discomfort? Perhaps I fail to realize that as the listener, I too have power to convert almost anything I hear, no matter how negative, into positive energy for my own growth. To do that, I need to practice separating the wheat from the chaff – to extract the kernel of truth from its packaging (no matter how beautiful or ugly) and put my focus therein.

I learn to really listen attentively when I realize that nobody can determine my value as a person, no matter how close they are. It is when my self-worth becomes independent from the opinion and judgment of others that I am really able to listen without fear and learn. Above all, I need to learn to speak truth to myself with kindness, and to listen to my own voice with courageous honesty.

Kind words are short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless- Mother Teresa

May we all learn to speak kindly and wisely, and to listen fearlessly…both to ourselves and to others!


  1. Thank you, dear, for the powerful sharing and deep insights. I especially like what you said: “…need to practice separating the wheat from the chaff – to extract the kernel of truth from its packaging (no matter how beautiful or ugly) and put my focus therein.”

  2. Hi dear,

    But I still think that there are some words that are best left unspoken :) Some words, when unspoken, become more powerful.. I guess this is a case when actions are ‘louder’ than words :) If you really think about it, words are the ‘end result’ of actions, whether you speak, write or sing :)

    But I do believe immensely in positive words/actions. Not just with children. Maybe effects with children could be more pronounced (and hence more ‘disastrous’ in the absence of positive reinforcement) as they are more ‘malleable’, but with friends, family, colleagues as well. However, sometimes when I give positive feedback in office places, some people tend to think I don’t exercise much ‘critical thinking’, and that I am ‘naive’. Talk about a family environment :)

  3. To Zibin:
    :) Glad you like it, dear.

    To YW:
    I agree. Even for positive words to have their greatest effect, they need to come from silence, and not all words need/ought be spoken. It is when words are spoken, however, that the question raised in this blog entry arises.

    Thanks for sharing! (Sounds like your colleagues may also have a rather unproblematized definition of ‘critical thinking’:P)

  4. “Careful the things you say,
    Children will listen…
    Careful the things you do,
    Children will see… and learn…”

    I actually still have an old MRT card that has a picture of a sunset and that very quote you gave from Mother Theresa, haha. I’ll show it to you some day.

    As for the power of words, I’m a firm believer of saying only what needs to be said. (Um… ok maybe I don’t practise that too much in blogs, but you get the point.) Many people don’t understand that “word-craft” is actually a very difficult skill to master, and the lack of care in framing one’s words can have rather unpleasant results. On the other hand, the clever use of words can sometimes bring about remarkable things…

  5. Monsieur Li!!! I’ve missed your comments!

    I happen to think that you practice word-craft quite well (even on blogs :P). It’s a difficult skill indeed. But I suppose a kind heart and a ‘quiet’ mind is always a good place to start. Hmm.. is that why you do it so well? *grin*

    (yes, do show me that card!)

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