The old saying “The pen is mightier than the sword” is testament to the true power of words. While there are many ways to influence and inspire a person, few are more effective than a well chosen anecdote or piece of advice.
Reddit user AWWWshetz asked a question on the AskReddit Subreddit, and the responses collected are a list of occasions when words were so powerful, they literally changed lives. These nuggets of wisdom really strike a chord, and we are sure there are a few in there that will inspire you too! Scroll down below to check them out for yourself, and upvote your favorite ones! (Cover image: Pablo Manriquez I Facebook cover image: whatleydude)
I was 13 years old, trying to teach my 6 year old sister how to dive into a swimming pool from the side of the pool. It was taking quite a while as my sister was really nervous about it. We were at a big, public pool, and nearby there was a woman, about 75 years old, slowly swimming laps. Occasionally she would stop and watch us. Finally she swam over to us just when I was really putting the pressure on, trying to get my sister to try the dive, and my sister was shouting, "but I'm afraid!! I'm so afraid!!" The old woman looked at my sister, raised her fist defiantly in the air and said, "So be afraid! And then do it anyway!"
That was 35 years ago and I have never forgotten it. It was a revelation -- it's not about being unafraid. It's about being afraid and doing it anyway.
"Don't be a d*ck to your dog. He's a few years of your life, but you are all of his"
I met a person who was in a wheelchair. He related a story about how a person once asked if it was difficult to be confined to a wheelchair. He responded, "I'm not confined to my wheelchair - I am liberated by it. If it wasn't for my wheelchair, I would be bed-bound and never able to leave my room or house. "
My mom was dying. A friend told me "you have your whole life to freak out about this-- don't do it in front of her. "
It really helped me to understand that my feelings are not always what's important. It IS possible to delay a freakout, and that skill has served me innumerable times.
When I was 38 I contemplated beginning a two year Associates Degree in Radiography. I was talking to a friend and had almost talked myself out of doing it. I said "I'm too old to start that. I'll be 40 when I get my degree." My friend said "If you don't do it, you'll still be 40, but without the degree." I'm nearly 60 now, and that degree has been the difference between making a decent living, and struggling to get by.
When I was young and having what I thought was a serious relationship talk with my first real SO, I told her that I just wanted to find the right person.
Without missing a beat she said, "Everybody is looking for the right person, and nobody is trying to be the right person."
That stopped me in my tracks.
A friend of the family's five year-old child died in a freak accident, where the father had just left the room for a minute to go to the bathroom, and the child climbed on top of the TV, and it toppled and crushed him. The family was in pieces, and the father undeservedly blamed himself for the death of his child. I remember telling my dad, a stoic man who has only said he loves me maybe three times in his life, that this is a reason that I don't know if I want children. I don't think I could handle something like this.
His response was: Even one minute with you in my life is worth whatever pain I would feel if you had died.
To hear that from him really showed me how strong that bond can be, even if a parent doesn't show it openly, and changed my mind about wanting children.
"Think of a time you were embarrassed, easy right? Now think of a time someone else was embarrassed. It's a lot harder to do isn't it?" I don't really worry about being embarrassed anymore if no one but I will remember it!
After getting rejected by a bunch of colleges in the same week, my dad (who is a writer) said "I was rejected by Stanford three times, and now my books are in their library. You've got to be better than them."
As a child, my duty was to empty the dishwasher.
I was something like 10, that day. I was always trying to do that fast, so I had more time to play SMB on my NES.
Only my dad was home, gardening. I grabbed the coffee pot that was in the dishwasher and it slipped off my hand, to broke loudly in pieces on the floor.
I was ashamed and afraid of my dad's reaction. Like a lot. He was (and still is) a nice guy, but for me it was like a big mistake, and for my child brain, this pot was worth a lot of money. He would be mad.
It took all my courage to go see my dad and tell him, but I did. I was almost crying of shame, while still having the handle of the pot in my hand, as a proof.
My dad, calmly looked at me, and said "Breaking something happens when you work, that's ok, don't worry".
It's silly, but I think of that almost every day. It's okay to make mistake, at least you are trying to do something.
I'm the oldest of three kids. I'm older than my little brother by 2.5 years and my little sister by 9.5.
When I was about fourteen or so, arguing with my dad in private about something I don't remember, he, being the second-oldest of eight kids, told me:
"Any decision you make in this household, you make three times. Once when you make it, once when your brother makes the same decision after watching you do it, and once when your sister makes the same decision after watching you and your brother do it. How you treat your brother will tell him how he can treat your sister; and how you treat your sister tells her how she will expect to be treated for the rest of her life, even as far as her future boyfriends."
That kinda shook me up and made me rethink my role as the oldest child; I started taking my responsibilities as the role model a lot more seriously after that. Even when you aren't trying to actively influence those around you, those who look up to and respect you will still base their decisions, in part, on how they've seen you handle similar situations. If you break down and get stressed and angry when something inconvenient happens, they'll feel better doing the same when something similarly small happens to them. But if you keep your cool in a dire situation and under a lot of stress, it can inspire them to believe they can do the same.
"How would it make you feel?"
It's the sentence that changed my stance on gay marriage. Without context, that seems silly, but I'll offer up a shortened version. I grew up in suburban STL to conservative Christian parents (and they weren't remotely tolerant) and pretty much never left my comfort bubble. I moved to Kansas City when I was 20 to finish college. My roommate was good friends with a gay couple, and this was my first encounter with gay people (that I knew of, which was ignorant. There's no way it was my first). Inevitably, we got into a debate, and they basically went into a tirade about how much it sucks to constantly be berated and made fun of, and how it sucks to be treated unfairly because of something they can't control. I reverted to the classic "it's a choice!" line of thinking. They responded with "why would we f*cking choose this for ourselves? Why would we choose to constantly be made fun of, to constantly be judged, and constantly be denied rights? How would it make YOU feel?" It was pretty much that exact moment when I, who I consider to be a logical person, realized I was being an illogical asshole and that I was just regurgitating the sh*t I picked up from being raised in a conservative Christian household. From that moment on, I start undoing all of the programming in my mind from years of living in a sheltered environment. My views have since changed on nearly everything, from gay marriage to abortion to religion. One sentence from one conversation with two gay men changed me in a huge number of ways, and now I scoff at the idea that you can't change someone's mind about these things.
My mom was in a nursing home, recovering from a heart attack (a battle she eventually lost). She had struggled with depression in her life, and this was hitting her very hard. She had worked in nursing homes, and hated them. I spent hours a day with her, and some days were better than others. I pushed her a lot, encouraging a positive outlook, and patience. Patience with herself, her situation, the staff, everything.
I started taking in some headphones, thinking maybe music would cheer her up. So one afternoon I'm sitting next to her bed, and she's listening to my iPhone, and tears just start running down her face. I pulled the headphones off her and started asking her what was wrong. Asking her not to cry. She looked at me and smiled like a mother looking at her son, and simply asked me "what if that's what I need right now? To cry?" Then she pulled the headphones back on.
Through all the pain and chaos of the last few years, that really stuck with me. What if sometimes, you don't need to focus on the positive. You don't need to smile, and bear it. Sometimes you just need to cry.
I recently got married earlier this year, and obviously our marriage is far from perfect. We argue, and disagree, and sometimes can't stand to be around each other. I grew up in a very hostile environment and having an arguement with a family member was awful. Personal attacks were always used, instant anger, and no mutual understanding was ever to be had. It was always about who was right and how to make them feel bad. When I got married, I quickly noticed that my fighting habits were toxic for our relationship, and my husband said something to me that I use in every relationship I have. He told me, "It's not You Vs Me, love. It's You and Me Vs Problem. We are always a team." It's helped me overcome some serious rifts in my personal relationships and I will never forget it.
Everyone you meet knows something you don't." My grandfather told me this, and it's been a good reminder that I am surrounded by teachers.
This is a bit lengthy, but changed my life. Not just the way I think. When I was young my father abandoned me twice as a child. I grew up to be a very angry and depressed young man. I truly hated him for it. In high school, I had this amazing teacher. He helped me, and so many others, in so many ways. But one day he asked me something. He asked "You hate him right?" I said yeah. He said "And he deserves it right?" And, again, I said yes. Then he then he said "Do you think he feels any of your hatred for him?" I thought for a few seconds and answered "No. He probably doesn't." And then he said "But you feel all of it. And you don't deserve that. It's time to forgive the man. Not because he deserves it. But because you do.". He was completely right. I forgave my father, and over time have built up an incredibly close relationship with the man. And I could neve have gotten to this point without my teacher.
"You know you're an adult when you can be right without proving the other person wrong."
In terms of love and romance, the truth is, the only person you know you're definitely spending the rest of your life with is you.
Everything else is simply not guaranteed -no matter how much you believe in “true love” and all that it entails. People die. People leave. People change their minds. When all is said and done, you end up with yourself. So you better f*cking like who that is. In fact, you better LOVE who that is. Work everyday to be your best self. And don't let ANYONE EVER define who you are without your permission.
"You're going to die one day. We all are. Do everything you want to do. Don't wind up on your death bed one day thinking of all the things you didn't do because assholes might have an asshole opinion about it. They're just jealous anyways."
~ My grandpa at 89 years old; a few months before he died 12 years ago.
And that's the real quote. It was on video.
"You are not required to set yourself on fire to keep other people warm".
Really hit home for me, since I grew up trying to mediate my parents' issues and had multiple friends in and out of the ER for mental health crises during my teen years, among other things. As someone who spent the majority of her life feeling like she had to take care of others at all costs, it was kinda a shock to the system to hear that I was allowed to have my limits even with people who truly needed help.
People won't remember the words you say but how it made them feel.
My old boss, the CEO of a small hospital, told me a story from back when he was a lab technician (for simplicity, let's call him Dan). Dan had forgotten to check some sort of mechanism on a piece of equipment he used, it malfunctioned and broke the equipment which ended up having around a $250,000 repair bill. The next day Dan's boss called him in to talk about it, and he was sure he was going to be fired. His boss asked him why he didn't do a proper check, made sure he understood what happened and sent him back to work. Dan asked him "Am I not getting fired? I was almost sure that's what this was about." His boss said "No way, I just spent $250,000 teaching you a lesson you'll never forget. Why would I fire you now?"
It seems silly, but that attitude always resonated with me. Don't make professional decisions based on emotional responses. Always know what your goal is when dealing with someone, and what exact problem you are trying to solve. Everyone makes mistakes, and yelling at them just makes them resent you and become defensive. Being calm and understanding will make people look up to you.
My dad was/is a deacon of a church, and one part of his duties was to visit with people in retirement homes and bring them communion. He couldn't go one day, and he asked me (I was in high school at the time) to go in his place.
Perhaps obviously, with me being young and the people in the homes being elderly, age was a frequent topic of conversation. One old man told me, "the hardest thing about getting old is running out of people who understand you." That is, each generation has a unique way of looking at the world and what it means to be alive in it, and as new generations come and redefine what the world is, one's world gets smaller and smaller as there are fewer people around who understand your world in the same way.
We are all marching toward obsolescence. I think I became much more of a realist that day.
"Education is expensive, but no education is more expensive". Definitely took school more seriously after someone said that to me.
"There will be something you hate in every job. The trick is finding a job where you love the good parts enough to make up for the crappy parts."
That might sound like a dumb one to list here, but whenever I have problems related to work (which seems to be where I need most of my motivation) I like to think back on this and take a deep breath. It's ok to hate where you are sometimes. The trick is to remind yourself what else you like, and power through.
"Depression presents itself in the guise of rational thought." Said by my uncle.
"Shouting a person into silence does not mean you have shouted them into agreement."
Forgot who originally said this, so I cannot give proper credit.
"I learned to give... not because I have too much. But because I know how it feels to have nothing."
"It's only embarrassing if you're embarrassed." Changed my life forever.
'Your job will never love you."
It made me really reconsider being so emotionally invested in it.
My dad once gave me and my brother each a dollar out of nowhere. I scoffed and said "Dad its just a dollar, you keep it." He got really mad and said "Never try to give anything back that someone gives you. It could be all they have to give and a huge sacrifice to them." I felt like such a dick. And I could really use that dollar right now.
There is no harder, only hard.
Helped me to realize that it doesn't matter if someone's problems are bigger or smaller than mine. At some point, everyone goes through the hardest thing they've ever had to deal with.
When I was a young kid and did really well on some tests at school I came home and boasted about it. "Mom! Guess what?! I'm really really smart!"
Mom: "So what are you going to do about it?"
It's been 20 years and I still don't know the right answer to that question.
Having grown up somewhat poor, I was always insecure when going to nice places...felt out of place and not as good as the other people there.
Out on a date at a nice restaurant once and the guy I was with said something along the lines of, "You're paying for your meal just like everyone else here...You deserve to be here just as much as they do."
I still get insecure sometimes, but I always think back to this and feel instantly better about myself.
We're all tired, we all just want to sit on our couch in front of our TV's. But that's not living, man.
-My buddy, when I told him I didn't want to go out because I'd had a long day.
This is a philosophy I live by now. My life is so much better for it.
"Isn't it funny how day by day nothing changes but, when we look back everything is different..." - C.S Lewis
On the subject of healthy eating/losing weight etc; a bald and muscly gay man once said to me... "Don't treat yourself with food, you are not a dog."
I rather live a life of 'oh wells' than 'what ifs?'
"Never point out your flaws. Let others figure them out on their own."
When I was 19/20 my mum started taking out loans to build houses abroad, which I thought was a silly and expensive waste of money but she told me it had always been her dream to own land/be a landlady. Which I thought was strange considering she was a nurse and she'd never once mentioned it in all the years I'd known her.
A few months later it dawned on me that it had coincided perfectly with the time my younger sister (who was the lastborn) had left the house to go off to school. Now considering she had four kids it hit me that she'd basically put her entire life on hold just to take care of us, and this wasn't just old school got a job, it was full on move to a different country/move heaven and hell to make sure we'd had a good life. And after over thirty years of putting the work in for us, she'd finally turned around and started working on her dream.
Absolutely floored me and was the first "Whoa my mum's an actual person (and not just my mum) who'd done all this for me." Appreciate your parents people and hopefully do the same for your kids.
The first female leader of the Cherokee Nation came to my college campus years ago. She gave a speech, talking about how her life had been formed by always striving for more, never turning away from the challenge. Her advice was simple: "Go where the fear is" -Wilma Mankiller. When confronted with two roads I always choose what scares me more.
In an episode of Louie he tells one of his daughters, "The only time you should look in your neighbor's bowl is to make sure he has enough." I'm sure Louis CK didn't invent that on his own, but it was the first time I'd heard it, and it's stuck with me.
I was having a bad day one time and being all "Why me?" when a coworker said "Why not you?". I had never thought about it before, but it was a good point. So I shut up and got over it.
"If you're scared of doing it because you're afraid that people will judge you, trust me they won't even remember it after a year."
Something like that. Made me a little daredevillish.
When I was in college a friend of mine told me I was gentle.
After being called sensitive all my life up until that point, and not in a good way, hearing that made me feel a lot better about myself.
"You aren't IN traffic, you ARE traffic."
I had just opened up to a good friend of mine about how, after 10+ years of intractable treatment-resistant depression, I was completely exhausted and really did not want to be alive anymore. At the time, I had kind of accepted that things would eventually get better, but I thought that it would be years until my life was what I wanted/needed it to be, and I just felt incredibly frustrated at everyone telling me to "wait it out".
Instead of giving lame advice, he asked me more about my plans, and it came out that the only thing that's ever kept me going is a drive to contribute something meaningful to humanity, and I just couldn't stand the idea of giving up and essentially leaving the world a little worse off. That's when he busted out this one:
"You know, I think it's almost tragically beautiful that you keep putting yourself through this just for the sake of other people. I know it's hard to believe it'll ever be worth 15 years of suffering, but once you're on the other side of it I think you'll see what an incredible person that makes you."
It still makes me tear up every time I think about it. It was one of the most important things anyone's said to encourage me, and it helped get me through some of my worst times. Thankfully, it was only about a year after that that I finally found a treatment that worked. No updates yet on the giant ego I'm supposed to be growing, though ;)
My psychologist gave me a print of a picture of Winnie the Pooh and Piglet in the forest. This is the quote that went with it:
"Supposing a tree fell down, Pooh, when we were underneath it?"
"Supposing it didn't," said Pooh, after careful thought.
Piglet was comforted by this.
I think about it when I'm catastrophising and it is really helpful for calming down and thinking rationally about whatever situation I'm in.
We judge others by their actions and ourselves on our intentions. Really made me think about people and I try telling myself that when the f*cking idiot in front on me doesn't indicate when merging.