Attitude of Gratitude: Day 8: Eileen Buckley Byrne and the Power of Words

A light moment with Mommy and me -- circa 1980

A light moment with Mommy and me — circa 1980

Today I am grateful for my mother, Eileen Buckley Byrne.  There is not enough blog space in the world for me to tell you all the things I loved about my mother . She was the best.  Ask any of my siblings.  They will tell you the same thing.  We got a great mother and that is a great blessing.

But today I was very aware of the wisdom my mother passed on to me about the power of words.  Writing this blog everyday, I’ve been feeling a bit “wordy” lately.   And it’s made me think about things my mother used to say when it came to what we said and how we treated people.  It was an important lesson for us to learn, because our family is filled with lots of talkers!  Most (but not all) of us are extroverts.  All of us are very articulate and fairly witty. Great gifts to have.  But those gifts can get you into trouble if you use them the wrong way.  There must have been times as we were growing up when my mother looked at these six kids, five of them girls, and thought “This could all go terribly wrong…..” (!).

So she passed on her wisdom.  Almost everyday I heard her say to one of us as we were growing up: “If you can’t say something nice about someone, don’t’ say anything at all.”  I remember when each of us graduated from elementary school, we had these autograph books that all your friends signed.  My mother signed each of our autograph books with the same quote:

“Be kind, sweet maid, and let who will be clever.”

It’s a quote from an old British poem entitled “A Farewell” by Charles Kingsley.  And it was my mother’s very gracious way of telling us “Don’t be a smart aleck.”   Be careful what you say.  Words can hurt.  Neve get a laugh at the expense of someone else.

My mother did not expect us to be silent or not to use our voice to speak our minds. On the contrary.  She was very outspoken about those things in which she believed and felt strongly.  She was a master at writing letters to CEOs of corporations with poor customer service. She wrote her senators and congressmen (they were all men in those days!) about the social issues that were important to her.  She was never afraid to speak her mind.  But she always did it with grace, with dignity and in a way that was utterly respectful of the person to whom she was speaking/writing. It’s a gift that often  seems  lost in our day and age.

My mother taught me that words have power.  They can hurt, or they can heal.  They can humiliate or they can inspire. And everyday, we have the choice of how we will use our words. What will be put out into the world?  Will the world be a better place because of how interacted with those around us today?

I had no idea, all those years ago, how much a part of my work words would be.  I am so grateful for my mother’s wisdom.  I’ve never come close to mastering it the way she did.  But I am so grateful for the example to look to everyday.

How did words influence you today?

One thought on “Attitude of Gratitude: Day 8: Eileen Buckley Byrne and the Power of Words

  1. My Mom always had a wellspring of expressions as well, Betsy and one of her favorites was “if you can’t say something good about someone then don’t say it all! ” Such perfect wisdom in such a simple statement! It sounds as if both of us were blessed with wonderful mothers1 Thank you for sharing.

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