I’ve become a poster child for Starbucks. Let me introduce myself. I’m Mr. Ugly.
Last week I stepped up to the counter to order my usual Flat White. The employee looked at me and said, “What do you want Mr. Ugly?” I took it as a joke. When I received my drink the employee urged me to read my name scrawled on the side of the cup. There it was: “Mr. Ugly” scrawled into my cup.
Again I laughed. I snapped a picture of it and Tweeted the picture. Within 5 minutes I received a responding Tweet from Starbucks urging me to email them. They wanted to know why an employee would call me Mr. Ugly.
Now, a week later, my Twitter followers have grown by 30%. I have seven free Starbuck coupons in my pocket. And corporate Starbucks is sending my additional drink coupons in the mail. I didn’t ask for this. I just wanted my coffee.
But as I’ve been thinking through this incident, it reminded me of the power of words. There is no bomb, no disease, no army, no force more powerful than words.
Think of it. There are 26 letters in the alphabet. Just 26. But if you can arrange the letters correctly you can write a novel and become a billionaire (Harry Potter; J. K. Rowlings), you can topple governments (Mein Kampf; Adolf Hitler), you can impact the lives of millions of people (How to Win Friends & Influence People; Dale Carnegie). Nothing is more powerful than words.
And yet we throw them around like confetti at a drunken parade. Think of how you use words in the course of your day. Do you speak without thinking? Do you let any word out of your mouth that comes to mind? Do you shoot off your mouth?
I love the Old Testament Hebraic understanding of words. For them spoken words were living things. When you spoke a word it resembled freeing a bird from a cage. The spoken word becomes alive. Say it, and away it goes, impossible to recapture. Sometimes those words bring healing and hope. Sometimes those words turn into guided missiles, hitting unintended targets and causing collateral damage.
Maybe each of us would do well to stop and think before we speak. Even as I write these words it seems like such elementary advice. But remember, words are the most powerful force on earth. And when you handle powerful things we ought to be cautious.
As you go through your day, decide you will think twice and speak once. Use caution when you release those living words into the atmosphere. Make sure you use your words to build up and not tear down.
Why should you do this? Because Mr. Ugly said so, that’s why.
How will you use the most powerful force on earth?