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Sunday, February 21, 2010

What did you say?

My grandfather used to say “If you don’t respect your words, then no one else has a reason to.”

It was a hot summer day in July and we were having a family get together in my grandfather’s back yard. I was probably 5 or 6 years old at the time and like all little brothers, I was doing my best to annoy my older sister. I remember chasing her around the yard with some vile grotesque object impaled on a stick as she screamed in terror, which made for typical adolescent comedy.

Eventually she reached my mother and gave yet another Oscar winning performance out of a horror flick, enraging my mother, probably more from embarrassment than any real fear of her danger. My mother looked at me with her patent-pending “death look” and shouted “boy, the next time you do that, I am going to knock your head off!” Just then the most amazing thing happened…my grandfather spoke…and it was the first time I grasped the awe and respect that others had for his words.

He simply said, “Wait a minute, let me teach you something right now,” and although he didn’t shout it, everyone heard him and immediately all activity came to an abrupt halt. In the stillness of that moment and all eyes fixed on him, he said “now the next time he does that, you are obligated to literally knock his head off.” My mom quickly retorted that she was just angry and wanted me to stop. He acknowledged her intent, but made it clear that if she doesn’t respect her own words, then there is no reason for me to. He said there are two things everyone should learn; one was to never say things you are not prepared to follow through on and the other is that action is the responsibility created by your words.

Maybe you know a parent whose idle threats are completely ignored by their kids, or a complaining co-worker who always talks about getting another job, but does nothing? Much like the lover who cheats or a drunken friend that swears…again…this is the last time, their hollow words are not respected because they have not given anyone reason to value them. The amount power in your words is validated by the respect for the actions that back them, not the amount of volume in your voice. In my grandfather’s day, people understood that the level of respect due a person was directly correlated to the value of their word, that hasn't changed. A handshake should be a contract and your word - your bond. My grandfather was so well respected because his actions consistently set the example for his words…and that is an example we can all follow. Be Blessed.

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