“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Maya Angelou
The passing of Maya Angelou has unearthed many of her greatest poems and expressions and has allowed us to treasure her words again. I have not read all of them, but I will be surprised if I find ones that resonates more with me than the above quotation. Two days ago, I wrote about buckets, and our filing and emptying them, and this quotation by Ms. Angelou seems to marry perfectly with that theme.
Words, as much as I enjoy them, are almost as ethereal as the air into which they meld once we start speaking. They can be powerful motivators, and they can crush spirits. Maturity and experience have taught me that words have the power to uplift and to denigrate: the old expression, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” just is not true. Words form and change boarders, topple governments, create movements, and alter lives, some for the better, some for the worst. Most of us have favorite words from poems, from literature, from favorite television shows, and from family members and lovers. We recite the words, enjoying their sounds and the music that they make in our lives. Yes, words, as ethereal as they can be, can be powerful, transforming, and, even, memorable.
Actions, as much as I enjoy partaking in them, can become a part of a kind of muscle memory when done frequently or be lost if done infrequently. As the Red Sox honor the 2004 World Series Team, dozens of exhilarating actions from that season play in my mind—spectacular catches, momentous hits, precise pitches—and I remember them with joy. I also remember mine own actions fondly: running the marathon to raise funds for notable charities, cycling across country to raise funds and awareness for protective nets, teaching a favorite poem or Shakespeare play, diving into the ocean in January, singing in the choir, walking down the aisle with my bride, holding my child in my arms. These are actions that play in my mind on a continual loop and evoke a smile. These won’t soon, if ever, be forgotten.
When interacting with people, however, as Maya Angelou opines, how you make someone feel is the most memorable, unforgettable act: not our words, not our actions, but our impact best remains. We may have used words and actions for that impact, and, as we know, memory attaches itself to strong emotions, so how we have left a person is what will be best remembered. The words fade, the actions disappear, but the feelings remain and indelibly mark a person’s heart. Choose carefully, choose wisely, your words and your actions, because they will determine how people will feel about you. And that feeling will shape your relationships.