What are the most powerful words one person can say to another? Words are powerful; they can start wars among nations or lead to peace treaties. Words can inspire people to greatness or be used abusively, carving deep emotional wounds. They can build up a child or tear down a friend; establish covenants or break down barriers. Words can be used to provide humor or they can be used to deceive. Words allow us to communicate our thoughts, feelings, morals, values, expectations, and simply allow people to connect with one another. But which words are most valuable to people?
In a marketing study done by Yale University’s psychology department, “you” is the most powerful word in the English dictionary (Schoener, 2010). This finding is certainly congruent with our ego-centrism. Ergo, the most important words one can say are certainly used in second person. So the most powerful words to be spoken must include the word “you.” But what else?
Measuring the effect words can have on another person has been dramatically improved over the past two decades as the science of neurochemistry has perpetuated copious amounts of research. Psychological research is no longer limited to an individual’s subjective interpretation of their experiences. Biochemicals can be identified and measured with specificity and an understanding of their purpose and effects (Curry, 2018). They can be measured in response to words and other random acts of kindness. It should also be noted that it is truly more blessed to give than to receive as studies have shown that acts of kindness generate higher levels of oxytocin for the giver than the receiver (Rowland, 2018). So saying kind words can be more beneficial to the speaker than the receiver.
Determining the most powerful words to be spoken requires examination beyond the positive benefits from these interactions, such as an understanding of the intrinsic needs and fears of individuals. So, what is our most fundamental need, beyond necessities for sustaining life? Most people can identify with hoping not to be picked last for a sports team, or not finding a date for the school dance, or not receiving an invitation to a party, or being turned down for a job. Rejection is powerful. Research has proliferated in this area over the past decade. In turn, acceptance is a fundamental need.
Mark Leary, PhD., a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University states “It’s like the whole field missed this centrally important part of human life. People have realized just how much our concern with social acceptance spreads its fingers into almost everything we do.” In terms of neuroscience, experiencing rejection is similar to the pain of physical injury and it has serious implications on emotion, cognition and even physical health. “Ostracized people sometimes become aggressive and violent. In 2003 Leary and colleagues analyzed 15 cases of school shooters and found all but two suffered from social rejection” (Aggressive Behavior, 2003).
Feeling accepted is a critical part of the human experience. This concept is addressed in schools of psychology as future clinicians learn about Carl Rogers, a Humanistic Psychologist who termed the phrase, “unconditional positive regard” (Rogers, 1951). Rogers asserted that unconditional positive regard is foundational to establishing the optimum therapeutic alignment and the best possible condition for personal growth for the client. The relationship between client and therapist is the most consistent predictor of successful outcomes in therapy, again emphasizing that the most powerful words are most likely stated in second person and address our fundamental need to be accepted and attached to others.
This perhaps leads us to religion, where people turn for acceptance. Religion’s focus on acceptance, either by earning it or receiving it freely. The Christian theology has dramatically changed the world. The message of the Christian bible dates back 6000 years according to the Old Testament with the New Testament beginning approximately 2000 years ago. The message of this religion drastically changed the world. What factor or factors led to such a widespread dramatic shift in belief systems across the world? How does the Christian bible capture the hearts and minds of its readers? Unconditional acceptance.
The promise “I am (will be) with you,” is the most repeated promise in the Christian bible (www.biblegateway.com 2020). Moreover, the entire Christian bible is about God’s plan and works for the purpose to be with His people. This addresses our most basic fear of rejection and loneliness. This is what millions of people began to cling to over the past two thousand years. Through this promise, people have developed intrinsic and eternal hope, societies have flourished, and the world has been ever changed.
I will be with you; these are the most powerful words one person can give to another. This goes beyond statements of love, encouragement, or forgiveness. Furthermore, the most powerful act is the manifestation of this statement. Words without actions can sometimes feel hollow and void. The most powerful words to be spoken must be supported with the most valuable action to be taken. Taking the time to be with someone is the most powerful action one can take. This is the essence of how people connect to one another. Unlike God, we do not inherently possess omniscience. Connecting with others requires us to spend our time and energy being with them, hearing their story, and seeing them as clearly as possible. Being willing ‘to be with’ another person
Curry, OS; Rowland, LA, Van Lissa, CJ; Zlotowitz, S; McAlaney, J; Whitehouse, H. Happy to Help? A systematic review and meta-analysis of the effects of performing acts of kindness on the well-being of the actor.
Rogers, Carl R. “Client-centered Approach to Therapy”, in I. L. Kutash and A. Wolf (eds.), Psychotherapist’s Casebook: Theory and Technique in Practice. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass
Rowland, L; Curry, OS. A range of kindness activities boos happiness. Journal of Social Psychology. 2019; 159 (3): 340-343.
Rowland, K. Kindness- Society’s golden chain? The Psychologist. 2018. http://thepsychologist.bps.org.uk/volume-31/february-2018/kindness-soceitys-golden-chain
Weir, Kirsten. The Pain of Social Rejection: As far as the brain is concerned, a broken heart may not be so different from a broken arm. 2012; Vol 43, No. 4.
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