We were wrong. As children we stuck our tongues out at the playground bully and hollered with a fake bravado, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.” We were wrong.

Wikipedia tells me this childhood rhyme has been around since 1862. For 150 years we have been telling ourselves that words don’t matter. But they do.
A year after having my third baby, a man at the gym said to me, “With as much as you work out, I’d think you’d be thin by now.” I laughed good-naturedly and made a comment about my love for chocolate, but I walked away wounded.

Mean words hurt. They stick.

But kind words stick, too.

I remember the boy in elementary school who spoke up in music class the day I was too scared to try out for the musical. I wanted the part of Dorothy, but I was too shy to actually sing about any rainbows. In front of 20 third-grade classmates, Dean Zavadsky bravely stood up and said, “It’s OK, Nicki. Just sing it. We promise not to laugh at you.”

I sang the song and I got the part. Many years later I would represent the state of Wisconsin by singing on stage at the Miss America Pageant. I wonder if Dean even remembers the way he breathed encouragement into a young girl’s heart that day? Nearly 35 years later, I remember.

I’ve been the recipient of many words of encouragement throughout the years. I assume everyone has a circle of personal cheerleaders, but maybe not.

I got a message from a woman who goes to my church. I don’t actually know her very well. I have only spoken to her one time in passing.

She told me I could share her note with you in hopes of illustrating the impact of one kind word.

“Hi Nicole, I have wanted to tell you something for a long time. The day you and your husband were confirmed into our church, you gave me a compliment. You simply said, ‘That color looks beautiful on you.’ Please don’t think I’m a whiner, but rarely do I receive compliments about my looks, particularly from a stranger. I think I might have given you an odd look because I thought ‘Why is this stranger being nice?’ I guess I was suspicious because people who are that nice to me usually want something. At least that’s what I used to think. As time passed I learned what a truly genuine person of faith and kindness you are. Therefore, I began to feel bad about the look I gave you.

“My husband and I have welcomed our first grandchild into the world and I have retired from my business to pursue other interests, both professional and personal. You have impacted me more than you will ever know. Your one sentence of kindness has truly changed my life.”

Can you imagine the rush of love I felt when reading this letter? We all have times, like I did standing in the church that day. A lovely thought flickers into our minds, That woman looks so beautiful in that color. Do we keep it to ourselves, wasting an easy opportunity to brighten someone’s day or do we give it away freely?

Sticks and stones may break our bones, but the power of words is also in our control. Will your words be the gift that quenches a thirsty soul or the dagger that hits an already hurting heart?

Please continue to share your stories of kindness with me at info@nicolejphillips.com. Or send a letter to Kindness is Contagious c/o Nicole J. Phillips, The Forum, 101 5th St. N., Box 2020, Fargo, ND 58107.

Nicole J. Phillips is a former television anchor for Fox News in Fargo. She is a writer, speaker and mother of three kids. Nicole is married to Ohio University’s men’s head basketball coach Saul Phillips. Her column runs every Saturday. You can visit Nicole at nicolejphillips.com.