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The Power of Words

11 July 2015

Have you ever taken a casual comment to heart?  Perhaps you’ve left a once favourite item of clothing hanging in the closet after someone suggested it didn’t flatter you? Maybe you’ve achieved something amazing, spurred on by someone else’s confident “you can do it”?  Words are powerful things!  I’ve been thinking a lot about the way a comment that was probably forgotten in minutes by the person who spoke it can sometimes exert a powerful influence over our life for years if we let it. I touched on this when I introduced myself.  Here’s a little more about how the language of others has shaped my life.


The power of words

I was five when I heard a classmate laugh and point out helpfully “you run funny” as I finished a race.  Rather than question another child’s judgement, I accepted my flaw and avoided running in public wherever possible for nearly four decades.

At thirty three, my questions about how MS was likely to affect me sent harder to hear words into my life.  “In ten years, I don’t believe you’ll be capable of doing the job you do now, from a mobility perspective”.  Too easy to believe as I waited for lifts, unable to manage even one flight of handrail-free stairs at the hospital. 

Five years on, hard won handrails finally adorned both sides of the hospital stairs. Four years more, the predicted demise of my career just twelve months away, I was torn between that childhood taunt and an unexpected determination to learn to run.  The words of a very wise woman got me started: “anyone who cares what you look like when you run is clearly not working as hard as you are!”

So I run.  Not fast, and not elegantly, but most times I get there. Sometimes I fall over, but more often I smile at the dog walkers and marvel at the privilege of having legs that keep going, however funny they might look to some.

Almost exactly ten years on from that dire prediction, I completed my first 5km MS Fun Run.  It’s become an annual event for my team of three “Little Engines that Can”.  We run because we think we can – and we all go to work on Monday. 


The Unaffected One




Comments (12)

I love this post. What an amazing achievement finishing your first 5 km run for MS. You must be so proud. Well done about the hand rails. I kind of need them to get my way up and down stairs also. Amazing what the power of words can do. They can be so cruel but also truly uplifting. Hope it makes people stop and think about what they actually say. Can't wait to hear more from you.

Thanks Rebecca! It did feel amazing - especially the first time - to complete the 5km! There's something about persevering at something you are hopeless at until you can do it that is incredibly satisfying. And it was so nice to send my Neurologist a finish line photo, too! He gets the first picture every year, and I think he is almost as pleased as I am that his original predictions have been proven wrong. You are so right about how careful we all need to be about what we say to others, and there's nowhere this is more true than in clinical encounters. I know I must still say the wrong thing to patients at times, but my own experiences being the recipient of health care have certainly made me much more conscious of considering the impact of my words on those who trust me to look after their health.

I imagine your neurologist is thrilled to get the photos, to have his initial assumptions proved wrong. We are only human and unfortunately we all make mistakes and say the wrong things at times but I think if all of us can just be alittle more aware of the power of words, the world will be a better place.

I'm sure you're right, Rebecca - both on the genuine pleasure my Neurologist gets out of seeing me succeed at something I never thought I'd be able to do, and also on how universally we are all afflicted by "foot in mouth disease" at times!

For me, it was "you talk funny"! Sowall oi hevter sey, is thet werds rehly do hev powwa! Speshley if yer torkin ter a kid, and speshly if its sumwun in a place uv orthoriddy, loik a docter, ay? It cud be a self ferfillin professy roight? Loik pointin the boan! Better ter tork sumwun up I rekkin, not dehn! I did lern but! Now I tork a bit maw proper, Still not shore I feel loik oim a tru blue strain yet, but I kin almost pass fer a real hoomin! Just wish I could still 'run funny' :-(

Hi there True Blue Strain. Isn't it odd how we sometimes let others' opinions shape how we think of ourselves? And I totally agree with you about it being better to "talk someone up" rather than saying things that might turn out a self fulfilling prophecy by making someone doubt their own possibilities. I am a firm believer in honesty, and particularly when I am in clinic I do my best to be honest (including being open about the fact I'm not always right!) with the people I see. But I also do my best to encourage hope and optimism. We all have a right to hope! I'm sorry running funny is not something you can aim for these days. MS certainly can take away some options, can't it? But whatever your "Mount Everest" is that you just might still be able to climb if you stick with it, good luck with the effort!

Great post! The power behind just keep going, even if you don't believe you can, step by step you will make it. If we give in to everyone that says 'you can't' or taunts us about our differences, we will never achieve. Its just not living! :-)

Thanks Amber! In an odd way, I find it quite "inspiring" to give something my best attempt when someone tells me "you can't". I'd much rather have the more positive inspiration of "maybe you can" or even "of course you can"........ but to be told "it isn't possible" just makes me determined to see whether I can do it if I really try. I must have driven my parents mad as a chlld!

Thanks Samuel. We should definitely consider having all of us who can still attempt 5km taking part! I kind of need my current team of three - the other two go one either side of me and make sure no one accidentally trips me up (I get more blurry as we go, and tend to forget to pick up my left foot from about 3km, so it's helpful to have a support team!). But there is always room for more fund raisers on the day. I love that you can be anyone - slowest "runner" in the world (I get lapped by the best 10km people!), walker, on wheels, or cheering from the sidelines. I'd recommend taking part in one way or another to anyone!