In most cultures, people greet – a habit of finding out about each other’s well-being or wishing another well. In some cultures, more meaning is attached to this tradition than in others. The Jews wish each other peace with “Shalom”. The Zulus confirm each other with a “Saobona Baba” (I see you, my friend). To greet is just “recognition” of another person –you matter to me. Many people feel upset if you do not greet them – if you ignore them or do not notice them.

I find in most cases, however, greeting others has become meaningless words that are just said without thinking or wishing anyone anything. A “good morning”, which is supposed to mean a blessing when you see someone, has simply become a Howzit? When we continue with “How are you? “, we often pay little attention to the answer that follows.

When I ask someone how they are, and they answer, “Okay.” I always want to know: “Why is it not going well?”. They are often surprised by the question. Sometimes you find people who give good reasons. But I often get people who do not even realise what they are answering, and then quickly qualify: “No, it’s going very well.” The fact remains – what we say, matters!

In the darkest moments of my life – in the weeks after my son’s death, I learned a powerful lesson on the power of one’s words. I struggled to answer the question: “How are you?” If you think about it, it is a senseless question in situations like that. One can safely assume that someone who lost his child only days ago will most likely not be able to answer with honesty that it is going well. My standard answer was, “It’s tough man, I’m struggling.” And that was indeed my reality.

One day, during that difficult time, I got a call from one of my mentors, Bill Gibson. He was the director of Knowledge Brokers International and has since passed on. When I answered the phone, he asked me the inevitable:” How are you doing my dear friend?” My immediate response: “It’s difficult, Bill, I am really struggling.” This opened the door for a powerful lesson. Something I am practicing (please note – not mastered… practicing) daily.

He told me that we all need a safe place where we can crash. A place where we can tell it like it is to the person and ourselves. But for the rest, he told me to: “Fake it until I make it!”. “I’m not sure I understand?”. I responded. He told me to use the following phrase when I answer those who ask me that question: “Every moment stronger, every day better.” I took his word to heart, and what a revelation. From that moment on I started getting stronger and from that day on I got better. I am not saying that I didn’t experience moments where I fell apart, no, but when it happened, I graciously had someone to turn to. A safety net of caring people – albeit sometimes by telephone. But these moments systematically happened less frequently and the getting back up, set in faster.

His advice was a determining factor in my process of getting up and getting better. It helped me realise the power of words anew and to experience them first-hand. There is a direct connection between what we say and what we believe. On the one hand, our words are the results of our beliefs and experiences; on the other hand, we create new convictions through what we continuously say. Our subconscious cannot distinguish between truth and lies. Everything that is seen, heard, and experienced by our senses is stored somewhere in our brains. When we affirm a certain picture, or statement enough, the brain takes notice of it, until a moment of conviction ensues. The creative subconscious becomes my “collaborator” to form a new reality… hence the term self-fulfilling prophecy.

The famous JK Rowling from Harry Potter fame is known to have said: “Words are, in my not-so-humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic. Capable of both inflicting injury and remedying it.”

Patrick Rothfuss who wrote the book, The Name of the Wind added: “Words are pale shadows of forgotten names. As names have power, words have power. Words can light fires in the minds of men. Words can wring tears from the hardest hearts.”

I believe in the word written by the man who is believed to have been the wisest man ever to live – Solomon. He wrote:” From the fruit of his mouth a man’s belly is filled; with the harvest from his lips, he is satisfied. Life and death are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit.

Pay attention to the fruit (circumstances/realities) in your own life. They are a result of a combination of factors – one of which is our words. This is true both in what we say when we talk to ourselves and what we say to others. As parents and leaders, what we say of, and what we say to our teams, or children has more impact than we often realise. Are we speaking life or death? Are we inflicting injury or healing – a fire or tears?

I took Bill’s advice to heart and replied to every person I met with these words: “Every moment stronger, every day better … And from that moment, I gradually became stronger, and I got in small increments day by day, better.

Stefan Lessing

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