*Names have been changed to protect the identity of those involved*
The summer before my senior year of high school I attended a leadership camp at a small university about an hour from my home. This was my fourth and final time attending this camp and I knew I wanted to soak up every moment. On the first day of camp we are put into small groups. The people in these groups go from being complete strangers to best friends in a matter of days. Or at least that's how the groups were designed to work. Unfortunately, our group had one major obstacle preventing us from bonding: James.
James was a junior that from the beginning of camp seemed to make everything about him. He was arrogant and annoyed most of the group to the point that a few people tried to trade small groups. It got so hostile that after only two short meetings, James and people's mutual disdain for him was the center of everyone's conversations.
At lunch the first day, I found myself contributing to one such conversation. I was about to chime in again when I saw James standing in the cafeteria with his tray, looking for a table to sit at. No one made an effort to invite him over.
The week before I had been at a different camp and one of the key messages was treating others how we want to be treated. They preached that one of the easiest ways to do this was with our words.
I thought about the conversation I'd been having about James, looked back to James standing with his tray, and made a decision. I grabbed my things, approached James and asked if he wanted to find a table. We sat down and started talking. We kept talking all through lunch, the next session, and the remainder of that day. Eventually I felt comfortable enough to bring up how he made others feel. He looked down, sighed, and said, "I know. I've been a jerk." Except instead of saying jerk he used another anatomical adjective.
Over the course of the week, James changed his attitude, and others changed their perception towards James. On the last day, during a small group session called "Boundary Breaking," James shared that he had been suicidal before coming to camp, but this community of people and the way they treated him gave him a reason to want to live.
I often what would have happened had someone not told me my words matter. Would I have kept speaking about James instead of speaking to him? Would his story have ended differently? I can't say for certain.
However, I am certain that my words matter. And so do yours.
P.S. On an unrelated, but heartwarming note, James stood next to me as a groomsmen in my wedding last year.
If you feel as if someone needs to hear something that will make them better, even if it's not easy to say or hear, tell them.
When is a time you spoke about someone when you should have spoken to someone?
"Don't ever diminish the power of words. Words move hearts and hearts move limbs."
- Hamza Yusuf