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Watch Your Words
By Susan Hines-Brigger


Living God's Word
Conveying the Right Message
For Teens: Expand Your Vocabulary
For Kids: Fun With Words

I clearly remember the joy I experienced when my kids uttered their first words. On the flip side, there have been plenty of times that I have cringed when they have said something I wish they hadn’t. (That’s usually because I’m pretty sure where they picked those words up.)

As a writer and editor, I cherish words. I spend more time than I probably should, searching for just the right ones to convey what I’m trying to say.

Unfortunately, I’m also very aware that certain words can have a very negative impact. All you need to do is check out the recent news for far too many examples of that—most recently, the Don Imus controversy.


Living God's Word

Yes, for good or for bad, words are important. We use them every day to communicate, express anger or frustration, praise accomplishments or provide comfort, answers or explanations. We offer words of support in difficult times.

In short, there is no getting around our love of words and our need for communication. If you’re not so sure, look around for a few minutes and you can certainly see it—cell phones, e-mail, instant messaging, wireless handheld devices, etc.

The challenge is then trying to “use the power of words for good, not evil,” to paraphrase my son in his best superhero voice. We are reminded of this each time we go to Mass and listen to the Word of God. In those words we can find direction, support, answers and inspiration.

Our Church leaders offer words of guidance, instruction, reflection. The same goes for doctors, politicians, experts in various fields, and even sometimes actors and athletes. Sometimes those words resonate with us and serve as a reaffirmation of what we know and believe. Other times they stir us up or prompt us to action. But no matter what, we seem to listen.

Conveying the Right Message

We know how important words are to us, but what can we do to make sure that we are using them to convey the best and most loving message possible? Here are some suggestions:

Accentuate the positive. Focus on expressing yourself in a positive way. You might find that it becomes contagious. Instead of complaining, try to focus on the positive in your conversations. Or if you want to hear words such as “please” and “thank you” more often, use those more yourself.

Go slow. A lot of times we speak before we think. Sometimes we’re angry, trying to be funny or quick-witted, or just get a word in edgewise. But often what we say in the heat of the moment will come back to haunt us later. Try to think through what you’re going to say before you even open your mouth. It may save you in the long run. And your mom was right: If you don’t have anything nice to say, it’s best not to say anything at all.

Take in the words. Try to stay focused and reflect on the words you hear at Mass, in both the readings and homilies. You never know when something might touch you in a way that it hasn’t before. And take time to reflect on what you are saying in the prayers and responses you offer at Mass.

Time for a reality check. As I mentioned earlier, some of the things my kids have repeated, they first heard from me or my husband. It’s always a good reminder to shape up myself and start leading by example. If I don’t want my kids saying something, then I really shouldn’t be saying it myself.

Speak up. If you hear someone utter a word that you feel is unacceptable or derogatory, call that person on it in a polite way. Silence may be interpreted as condoning the behavior. For instance, my nieces and nephews—as do a lot of kids—use the term “whatever” pretty frequently. It’s not the word that gets me, but the tone and intent behind it that I find unacceptable. And I’ve let them know that. I am happy to say that not too long ago I heard my nephew Rex tell one of his friends not to use that word because his Aunt Sue doesn’t like it.

Words will always be with us. It’s up to us, though, to watch how we use them.


For Teens: Expand Your Vocabulary

While in high school—and sometimes in college—most students will take some classes in a foreign language. I took Spanish in high school and American Sign Language in college. At the time, I thought they would never serve a purpose, but I have actually put what I learned into practice more than once. I know many teens are also well versed in the language of texting and instant messaging. This is yet another form of communication and one often foreign to many adults.

Learning new languages and ways of communicating with others opens doors—and communications between people who would have otherwise remained strangers. If you are taking a second language at school, put those skills to work. (Or if you are really motivated, take it upon yourself to learn a second language.)

Seek out opportunities to utilize what you’ve learned for the betterment of your community or parish. Not only will you get valuable practice using your skills, you will also be doing a service for others. For instance, many parishes have sign-language interpreters at various Masses. Volunteer your time and skills to help others communicate.

For Kids: Fun With Words

One of my favorite games when I was young was Mad Libs. They were books of stories that had words removed. You would ask another person to provide different words based on the type of word needed, such as a noun, verb, adverb, etc. Then after all the missing words were filled in, you would read the story with the new words. The results were usually pretty funny.

You can find these books at most bookstores, or you can make up your own version. Take one of your favorite stories or write your own story. Then leave out some important words. Ask friends or family members to fill in the blanks and enjoy the silly stories!


Do you have ideas or suggestions for topics you'd like to see addressed in this column? If so, send them to me at “Faith-filled Family,” 28 W. Liberty Street, Cincinnati, OH 45202-6498, or e-mail them to

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