Words can make a difference in our lives. They can hurt. They can make the day special, one we will always remember. A word can change the course our lives. They can change our political and religious views. They can ruin our lives.

I remember a day at the playground when my son was only four years old. A pre-teen boy yelled at me from a distance that I was ugly. Now why, forty years later, would I even remember something so random as that? I even thought for a time that maybe I was ugly. Not that a pre-teen was a good judge of beauty – he wasn’t even close enough to see what I looked like!

Why is it that we can take to heart a random mean remark from a stranger over years of affirmations from family and loved ones? We tend to remember those cutting mean remarks more than the kind ones.

But each word is a brick in the house of our self-esteem. Angry, mean words make for shoddy construction – walls that will fall down. But kind words can build a skyscraper, reaching to our own stars.

Are words the only things that build self-esteem? Of course not. We build our self-esteem from our work, our accomplishments, what and who we love, and mostly from ourselves.

But words do make a difference, no matter how old you are.

When I see the words that are thrown about today, the hateful speech, pitting one group against another, words that exclude and demean others, I think of how simple it is to use kind words for others.

And I don’t mean lying to people. Insincerity and judging everything to be excellent is as harmful to self-esteem as lying. For example, how can a student learn if they are only given false affirmation, not real criticism of their work? But everyone has something that can be complimented and encouraged if we take the time. And if you can’t find any sincere honest remark, then why say anything at all?

I wish we could get our sense of self from ourselves, from our own dreams of the future, from what we do and who we are. But we can’t do that all the time. We rely on others for our sense of self and our appreciation of ourselves often mirrors what people say about us. So why not use your words to do good, to build rather than to tear down, to make someone’s life a little better. It’s simple to do. It just takes a word.