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From the desk of Dora DePaoli, Staff writer: The power of words

June 08, 2001

Many of us remember some compliments almost word for word, or we have held onto thoughtful messages sent to us. Kind words are a precious commodity in today's society where even family members go on national television to trash one another, and holding nothing back seems to be acceptable conduct. The old adage, "sticks and stones can break my bones, but words will never harm me," is not true.

I have kept kind notes and letters from friends, family members and strangers. Messages from my late husband are especially dear.

The Rev. Charles Swindall had a tough childhood. There was no father in his home when he was a youngster, and his mother worked at various low-paying jobs to keep the family together. Because there was no money for a baby-sitter, his mother put him into first grade when he was only 5 — an immature 5. The nationally known evangelist said he remembers very little of that tough first year in school, but one comment has stuck with him, which he overheard his teacher make to another teacher: "I sure like that Charles Swindall."

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At a Farm Bureau potluck at our country school, when I was in the seventh or eighth grade, the principal told me my hair was as shiny as a new copper penny. I was so pleased with her compliment and remember sharing it with my mother.

I also remember being terribly hurt the same year when a friend and I were the only kids in our class not invited to a party. I don't remember many other things that happened more than half a century ago. Parties were rare indeed in those days, and to have been excluded was a painful slight. Parents who selectively pass out invitations to parties at schools, churches or other public places must not realize the insensitivity of their actions.

A relative in her 70s remembers when she was in her teens an aunt told her that her nose was "sure getting big." It was this aunt's thoughtless spouse who also said of her: "She sure works hard," he said, "like a tied-up horse." This woman remembers feeling quite proud of his statement until she realized it was a put-down.

My boss, Managing Editor Bret Kofford, remembers the snubs he and his fellow groomsmen received at a Southern wedding. He told of some of those in his column last week. One he left out was at the three-hour wedding rehearsal, the bride's sister, who Bret escorted down the aisle, told him what his duties were: "You are to give me your arm as we go down the aisle after the wedding. Once we are out of the church you will let me go and not touch me again."

The Bible has a lot to say about our words:

"Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul, and healing to the bones." Prov. 16:24

"He who restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding." Prov. 17:27

"A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. The tongue of the wise makes knowledge acceptable, but the mouth of fools spouts folly."

Prov. 15:1,2

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