In a eulogy last week in Tucson, President Obama reminded us that our word choices are important: “At a time when our discourse has become so sharply polarized–at a time when we are far too eager to lay the blame for all that ails the world at the feet of those who happen to think differently than we do–it’s important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we are talking with each other in a way that heals, not a way that wounds.”

A year ago today, my uncle passed away. At that time I wrote about his struggle with words. I encouraged you to use your words, not to “be stingy” with them, but several readers pointed out that I didn’t say what kind of words to use. By request I am running this post again, with this thought: freedom of speech is a right, but it’s also a privilege and a responsibility. Choose your words carefully.


I like to talk, I like to write, and I take my words for granted. Nearly ten years ago my uncle (pictured here with my son) was diagnosed with Primary Progressive Aphasia, a disorder of language that progresses over time. At first he had difficulty speaking. Then reading, spelling, and writing became challenging, too. For much of that time he could understand what others said to him, but had a hard time forming responses. More recently, conversation was nearly impossible.

Throughout this time, he and his wife dealt with this frustrating condition with incredible grace. I am certain I would never have been as patient as either of them. Their strength and their love has been truly inspiring.

Sadly, my uncle passed away yesterday. When I last saw him several months ago, I could only say hello and give him a hug. No other words were possible. I left that visit missing him. Even though he was there in the room, I realized how much you lose when you can’t share words. So much of the connections we have with each other are about our conversations: voicing ideas, sharing endearments. We take our words for granted.

I don’t usually make requests here, but today I want you to do two things for me. The first thing is to remember the nicest thing someone ever said to you. Think about how their words made you feel. Think about how powerful a feeling it was to have someone acknowledge you, maybe praise you, compliment you, or thank you.

The second thing I want you to do is to say something nice to someone else. Don’t be stingy with your words! It’s so easy to thank someone for their help, compliment a job well done, or simply tell them how much they mean to you. And it means so much to the person who hears it. Never, ever take your words for granted.

To learn more about aphasia, please visit the National Aphasia Association.