Words are powerful.
As human beings, we understand this on a fundamental level. It is why politicians hire speechwriters, marriage vows are uttered, and many of our myths and legends tell of monsters destroyed or curses being broken by the hero speaking the proper incantation.
Our ability to communicate complex ideas, feelings, and knowledge through language has allowed us to rapidly evolve and develop as a species. Words have permitted us to profoundly alter the very planet we live on and even to leave it temporarily.
All words are powerful, not just learned and scholarly words.
Words shape our beliefs. They structure our thoughts and drive our behaviors. As such, it is critical that we choose our words carefully. Particularly the words and phases we repeat often.
I call this minding our mantras.
When I was 12 years old, I inadvertently came across a quote that became a kind of mantra for me. And it wasn’t until many years later that I came to realize the deep influence of this phrase.
“Even a fool, when silent, is counted wise.” ~ Proverbs 17:28
I found this quote on a scrap of paper in my grandmother’s dictionary. This dictionary was seriously old-school, and approximately the size of a microwave oven. It harkened back to a time when, besides an encyclopedia, the dictionary might be the only source of written general knowledge in a home.
It was so much more than a dictionary. It housed parades of information: maps, conversion charts, anatomical diagrams, military organizational tables, as well my favourite section—famous quotations.
I used to pour over these quotes, looking for small, witty tidbits I could easily memorize and then casually drop into conversations in order to dazzle my friends and potentially woo suitors.
I was really fun at parties.
As an introvert, I was not naturally one of the “cool kids” at my school. But what I lacked in popularity, I made up for with wit.
I was smart.
In fact, my brain was just about the only thing keeping me afloat in the Darwinian social juggernaut that was high school. So I worked diligently to maintain my “brainy” persona.
So when I came across the Bible quote in Grandma’s gigantic dictionary, I instantly latched onto it.
As long as I keep my mouth shut and do nothing to dissuade them of the idea, everyone will just assume I’m brilliant? I can do this!
And I did.
Whenever I felt unsure of myself, which as a teenager was pretty often, I would tell myself that it was okay to clam up because “even a fool when silent is counted wise,” right? My quiet nature wasn’t awkwardness, social anxiety, or timidity. It was an overt display of intelligence, right?
This is why I say, mind your mantras.
Over time, this phrase began to work a twisted sort of magic on me. I began to suspect that I actually was the fool from the quote. I began to believe that I had nothing of value inside of me, and I had simply fooled everyone into believing otherwise.
With each passing semester, I grew more quiet. I avoided opening my mouth, just in case I confirmed my own suspicions. And the less I spoke up, the less I recalled how to speak. Staying silent did not see me “counted wise.”
All it did was rob me of my voice.
Now I recognize that not speaking up was the truly foolish thing I did. Now I appreciate that there are much worse things than being mistaken for a fool. But it took me years to trust this. I worked hard to recover my voice, remember how to use it, and muster the courage to share it.
So now I mind my mantras.
I only choose words that speak to my highest self, to the bravest, silliest, wisest version of myself, and to my most compassionate nature.
So the next time you are trawling Pinterest for some pithy pick-me-up, be sure to mind your mantras. Choose words that build you up, inspire you, and set you free. Because the words we whisper softly to ourselves are the words that shape how we show up in the world.
Here are a few of my new mantras:
“You alone are enough.” ~ Maya Angelou
“Perfection is the enemy of the good.” ~ Voltaire
“Follow your heart, but take your brain with you.” ~ Alfred Adler
“Let your body do more thinking and your mind do more dancing.” ~ Al Huang
I am still a total quote junkie and would love to hear some of your favourite wise words. Please leave them for me in the comments section below.
Author: Jude Temple
Editor: Ashleigh Hitchcock