Annalyn’s Corner: Your Words Have Influence

In anime, insults are often represented by arrows that stick straight into a character. Depending on the anime, a barrage of insults might knock the character onto the ground. The offender might not even realize what he’s doing—often the hurtful words are said out of ignorance and carelessness, rather than ill will. The effect is humorous—especially when followed by an aura of gloom—but perhaps it’s also more truthful than we realize. Our words have a lot of power. Sometimes, the effects are as transient as an anime arrow or aura. But they can also be much deeper and longer lasting—even if the speaker never realizes it.

“Yeah, I know this, Annalyn,” you may be thinking. “Words are power. With great power comes great responsibility. Be nice. I’ve heard variations of that many times.”

Yes. So have I. But hearing a few nice proverbs and speaking (or writing) responsibly are two very different things. Everyone—even if they don’t think they have much influence—has the ability to do any of the following with just a sentence or two:

  1. Cheer someone up.
  2. Encourage them to live well.
  3. Give just the encouragement they need to continue (or begin) their ministry or work.
  4. Give wisdom they’ll think back on for years.
  5. Make someone doubt themselves.
  6. Convince someone that they can’t do something.
  7. Influence their view of the world.

I’ll start with the power we have for good. Part of actively loving others is talking with them and telling them what they need to hear—even if its not what they want to hear, or perhaps not what you want to say. Sometimes all it takes is a few words to turn someone around, for better or for worse. I think of Haikyuu!!, for example—when Tsukishima was struggling with how everyone around him pursued volleyball, while he wasn’t sure it was really worth it, a quick conversation with his friend was all it took to give him the push he needed. Yamaguchi just told him that the way he was acting wasn’t good. That was it.

Sometimes, a person needs more ecnouragment than that. In the baseball anime Ookiku Furikabutte (aka Big Windup! or Oofuri), pitcher Mihashi has been broken by his middle school teammates. He has no confidence in his ability or his right to be on the mound. It falls to his new teammates in high school to convince him that he is a good pitcher and he is wanted. At first, they’re not sure how to deal with him—they’ve never come across someone this sensitive. The catcher, Abe, has an especially steep learning curve, since he works the closest with Mihashi.

Remember, when you talk to someone, there’s a lot about them you don’t know, so your words can have more impact than you realize—and sometimes a very different impact than you intended.  When Abe simply tells Mihashi that he’s a good pitcher and a good person, the other boy is transformed (for the moment at least).

Mihashi responds to Abe's pep talk before a game against his former teammates (ep 2).
Mihashi responds to Abe’s pep talk before a game against his former teammates (ep 3).

“Abe is not disgusted by me,” Mihashi realizes. “Abe is acknowledging me!”

Not all of Abe’s words to Mihashi in the first couple episodes are right, though. Abe comes with his own baggage, so he tells his new teammate, “…you throw exactly as I tell you. I hate pitchers who shake their heads at me” (ep 1). At first, that statement is helpful, but a few episodes later, it costs during a game, because Mihashi is too afraid to argue with Abe’s signs, even though he knows something about the batters that Abe does not.

Not everyone is as impressionable as Mihashi, but most people are more easily impacted than you may realize. In my life, one positive example comes from five years ago, when I was just getting started in the aniblogging community. I wasn’t as broken as Mihashi at the time, but I was an anxious, depressed teenager trying to figure out the very new world of internet community. If it weren’t for a few kind, encouraging sentences from TWWK (a comment on a post, a few lines of encouragement about a forum discussion where we were talked about Christianity with non-Christian anime fans, etc.), I’m not sure how long I’d have continued aniblogging. Then I started interacting with other anibloggers. Just the occassional encouragement, and perhaps an empathetic line from someone with similar struggles as me… that’s all it took to make my day, or to keep me going when I was discouraged after anxiety kept me from my blog for weeks or months at a time.

At first, I was shy about commenting on others’ blogs—did they really want me reading and commenting on their personal thoughts? Of course they did. Many would appreciate comments as much as I did. Remembering that, I learned to confront my own insecurity and reach out to others online. It took a while, but I eventually learned to translate that to my offline interactions (okay, I’m still learning, but I’m better than I used to be).

The word “just” provides a more negative example. I recently wrote a Tumblr post about how “just” can be misused in a way that’s really hurtful to those with AD/HD and other disorders or mental illnesses. It quickly became my most popular original post. I don’t say that to boast, only to point out that, at last count, 69 individual people on Tumblr (mostly those who, like me, have some type of AD/HD) recognized the pain inflicted by that one word. Many with AD/HD go years or even a lifetime assuming they’re lazy and stupid because people keep telling them “just focus, just try harder, just stop procrastinating,” and they don’t realize that something in their brain works very differently, and it’s not their fault.

I talked to my sister about it, and she pointed out how hurtful “just” can be to “normal,” “healthy” people, too. So I re-shared the post on Facebook and added to it for my “normal” friends to relate to:

That one word is powerful. It implies that the problem and the solution are simple. It minimizes the other person’s struggles and tells them they’re foolish for not “just” sorting it out themselves (perhaps even lazy or sinful, depending on the situation). If they’ve cried over it, you’re telling them their emotions are foolish, too. Basically, “just” negates the sympathy/empathy/compassion you probably should be communicating. And here’s the painful truth: if you think “just _____” will solve their problems, you probably don’t understand where they’re coming from.

The examples in the original post are primarily for when you address people with AD/HD (with quick mentions of depression and PTSD). Obviously, those are important to me—I’m not shy about advocating for myself and fellow AD/HD’ers. But the problem is much bigger than that. Here’s an example from Christian culture:

“Just trust God.”
– Okay, yes, trusting God is important. But it isn’t always easy. And it doesn’t take the immediate pain away. In some situations, it’s appropriate to advise a brother or sister to trust God. But drop the “just.” You’ll just make them feel like a terrible Christian and person, in addition to whatever else they’re going through.

So next time someone confides their struggles with you, please think twice before using the word “just.” In fact, think twice before giving any advice at all. Sometimes, a person just needs a sounding board (and maybe a hug). Often, it’s best to ask if there’s anything you can do to help—or at least ask before giving counsel.

I know, that’s harder than giving unsolicited (and possibly patronizing) advice. But if your goal is to help, rather than to act “wise,” then you should be willing to stop, think, and and learn the best way to support them.

Those tiny “just” phrases become part of a barrage that feels like the arrows in anime—and the tricky thing is, “just” phrases appear to be well-meaning. What about longer phrases? Lectures, articles, conversations? How much power do those have to tear down… and to build up?

I took a speech class my first semester of my Christian university. The first and most important lesson we learned about communication was the importance of love. If we love our audience, we will to our best to craft our words well, to tailor our words to them, and to speak only truth. This applies to conversation, writing, public speaking, and all other modes of communication. The professor gave us several Bible verses to mediate on, and I posted this one on my bulletin board:

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. —Ephesians 4:29

Another applicable passage is as follows:

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” — Matthew 22:37-40

It’s not easy to think about serving others when you speak. I confess I’m often more flippant than I should be, especially when speaking face-to-face. I feel the responsibility more strongly when I write, but it’s just as important to keep in mind when I talk to my family and friends.

2 thoughts on “Annalyn’s Corner: Your Words Have Influence

  1. I think people also need to be reminded to use kind words with everyone, including themselves. Sometimes the biggest bullies can be ourselves and our own minds. We use the word “just”, as you explain, to scold ourselves, and that can be especially detrimental with those who struggle with a mental disorder or any other sort of handicap at that. It’s easy to constantly compare oneself to the measuring stick of society and be harsh upon seeing any shortcomings. “ just do it, just be stronger, just try harder, just be a better person”… but it takes practice to be kind to others if you don’t even know how to be kind to yourself. It takes courage to admit you may have to work on using kinder words when talking to others, but it is also just as difficult to learn to give oneself grace, that we are not judged by the world’s measuring stick, but we are seen by God as already beautiful. I know that was a bit off topic from what you were trying to communicate, but I thought it important to remind everyone that “unwholesome talk” does not help anyone, especially ourselves.

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    1. Thanks for adding this, Lady_TeresaChristina! This is not at all off topic, and I’m really glad you pointed it out. It’s easier to give others grace if we can already give ourselves grace. Knowing who we are before God is an important part of knowing who others are before God, and speaking to them accordingly. ^_^

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