The Human Hunger for Words

By Sam Jolman | January 25, 2008

You may have noticed I now have an endorsements page on my website. Asking for those endorsements was quite a journey for me, more than I anticipated, putting me face to face with just how powerful words can be in my own life. So I’ve been meditating on the human hunger for words lately and thought I’d share a few things I’m learning.

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Remember that playground rebuttal? I remember reciting it to my boyhood antagonists. Oh, did it ever feel so clever, so poetic, so battle worthy. And oh, what a terrible lie, about as useful as a rubber sword. Words hurt and injury much deeper, for much longer than sticks and stones. They just aren’t that easy to forget. In fact, we are designed to be impacted by words. The need for affirmation and blessing is fundamental to being human.

Author Leanne Payne says of us as humans, “We are dialogical beings. We become in dialogue with others.” Let me say that a little bit differently. To be human is to hunger for words. As our lungs breath air and our stomach digests food, so our hearts crave affirmation and absorb blessing. From birth to death, at every age in between, we need dialogue with others. And its this meaningful conversation that shapes our development. We become the words we receive. Our hearts are nourished on them or famished if we do not get them. If we stop receiving these words we stop growing.

Okay, so its not just words alone that do it. The words must come from people with power to bless, from people we want to receive from, from people we trust and let in to our hearts. For children, our parents are the primary place we receive dialogue. Our parents help us learn who we are. Parents rarely realize the power of words. “Good job, son!” or “You’re such a princess, sweety!” can be water on thirsty ground in a child’s heart. Coaches, mentors, close friends also feed our needs. As adults, we listen to spouses and friends and mentors. Yet, this dialogue primarily must come from God if we want to live out our true selves. Through his intimate personal words to us, as we wait in silence for him, we grow up even as adults. As Lottie Hillard has said, “We get snacks from other people. The feast is with God.”

If we do not get nourishing dialogue, or deny our need for it, we will inevitably be susceptible to other voices. A criticism from someone at work will set you spinning. Or that off handed comment you received in high school from a bully will define you years later. Even just the absence of words can echo in your soul their cry of invalidation. We all live in the words we receive from our lives. Our hearts can’t help but ingest them… good or bad.

This is why counseling works so powerfully, by the way. Counseling can be a place to receive nourishing, healing dialogue, a place to find a different voice from all those other “sentences” you’ve lived under your whole life.

So what words, whose words are you growing up into these days?


  • It’s funny how brave and arrogant we become when we know we can stay anonymous!

    Rebecca Roberts
    Miami, Florida

  • @sam jolman:

    Your writing’s perfectly acceptable. It’s your choice of authorities to quote that I found objectionable.

    @Rebecca Roberts:

    Funny how annonymity on blogs works like that, huh? The abscence of the “chilling efect” and all.

    And it follows that your are indeed Rebecca Roberts merely because you so indicate about as quickly as it follows that you are the Man in the Moon.

    Man in the Moon
    New York, New York

  • Lottie is a sage of sages. She speaks with great wisdom.

    My hunch is you’ve got something you’re avoiding here my friend.

  • @sam jolman:

    You’re certainly entitled to that opinion. As — I would like to think — I am to mine.

    Your site solicts the comments of your readers. Accordingly, I shared mine. And, at your request, further clarified my comment. Given the simple facts of the matter, I’m confused as to the basis upon which you would conclude that I’ve got something I’m avoiding. Perhaps I am unable to see the logical steps which you do ’cause I’m just not following you.

  • Acceptable question for sure. My comment follows the fact that you put down Lottie without a stated reason and do it anonymously. That’s the avoidance I am pointing out.

  • Let me first address the more quickly dismissed of your concerns:

    Would it have given you greater comfort or any more or less validity to my comment if I had indicated in my posting that my name is “Rodney Jenkins” of “Allentown, Pennsylvania?” Because, Sir, with all due respect, if that’s all it takes for you to declassify me as anonymous (and, I assume, attach greater weight to my opinion), then that begins to speak to some amount of guillibility on your part.

  • I was already aware that posting comments to your site inherently discloses my IP address. That little piece of detective work isn’t particularly impressive. But that you would solict anonymous comments and then begin to “out” the poster of those comments suggests to me that you are a dishonorable person with whom I am not interested in further discussion. But thanks for the invite anyway.

  • Hey man, you’re asking for it when you take an anonymous sucker punch at Lottie. You still have said nothing about why you question her authority.

    Your comments are not engaging… you’re just looking for a fight.

  • I think you shouldn’t solict anonymous comments if you aren’t willing or able to respect the anomynity of your posters who choose to avail themselves of that option. Regardless of whether or not you agree with the substance of their comments. It’s, I think and to put it lightly, bad form. Perhaps you should re-configure your blog so that it doesn’t accept — and therefore doesn’t invite — anonymous posters.

    But it is your blog and you are free to run it as you choose.


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