Caren McLane has a Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree in Community Health Education from BYU. She met her husband, Todd, in her freshman year while at BYU. They are the parents of 5 children and live on a 4-acre “hobby farm” with chickens, cows, and dogs. She volunteers at the library and hospice and has blogged since 2014. Caren has served in a variety of callings in the Church and is currently serving as a JustServe coordinator.

Enter Caren…

“Solemnly, people began to gather outside the mission president’s office. Exchanging astonished glances, many could still not believe that they had been summoned to a church court. The officers of the court were full of love and understanding, but very serious in their investigation of the charges; those present could lose their membership in [the Church]. The charge was not immorality or apostasy; they were accused of speaking evil of a neighbor.
“A fine brother had been slandered by those gathered together that evening, accused of the serious charge of immorality. He was completely innocent, but the great damage that had been done by ‘those whom he counted as his friends’ would not be easily repaired. Who could measure the near destruction of this good soul? Who could measure the impact on the branch, as its fellowship was eroded? And what about the effect on those nonmembers who also became involved? Who could ever undo the evil that had affected hundreds of lives?
“It had happened so easily. It began with simple words like—
“’Did you hear?…’” (Gene R. Cook, “Gossip: Satan’s Snare,” Ensign, Jan 1981)

Whether we are leading in our calling, home or community, we need to be mindful of the impact our words have for good or ill.

How Words Affect Us Negatively

Can you think of a time when something someone said hurt you? Think back to elementary school if you can. Even going that far back, it’s not hard. At least for me. That’s how powerful words are. Here are three examples:

1. It was in high school basketball for Physical Education class. We got assigned to teams and one of the girls huffed and asked, “Why do you have to be on our team?”
Result: Haven’t felt confident and I’ve avoided sports as much as possible ever since.

2. I was a freshman at BYU, it was a home football game, and a friend and I were walking up the stairs to meet our friends when I heard a guy say, “Those are two of the ugliest girls I’ve ever seen.”
Result: Those guys didn’t know I’d questioned my looks my whole life. They made it even harder by adding to those insecurities so that more than 30 years later I still don’t feel confident about my outer shell. I just try to focus on other things.

3. I was president of an organization back when I was 26. We had a 2-year-old, I was working, Todd was in vet school, I was trying to figure out marriage and mothering and adult life hundreds of miles away from my family and friends. There were major issues within the families we were trying to help and lead. It was summer, we were preparing for girls camp and our camp leader pulled out, which left me scrambling to figure out what to do there. I was due with my second baby any week. My grandpa who I was really close to had just died. My sister got divorced. Just kind of a busy time, which is fine, I could manage all that. What made my calling so difficult was the members of my presidency, of all things. I discovered they’d all been talking about me behind my back and that they were being critical.
Result: I felt incredibly insecure. I couldn’t trust them, I didn’t feel united, and it seemed that the girls could tell. We were ineffective. I was tentative. I didn’t want to make any decisions and give them any more fodder to talk about. Even when they threw me a baby shower, I didn’t know if it was genuine. The lasting result? This experience has paralyzed me. I never wanted to be in a position of leadership again. It scared me to death to think of working in that capacity again. Their words—even though they weren’t to me in person—shook any confidence I could’ve had, and the effects still linger more than 25 years later and have made me hesitant about ever being in charge of anything.

Idle Words are Powerful

I’m not saying we can’t be strong and pull ourselves together and disregard what people say and focus on what God has to say to us instead. Obviously, that’s what we do. All I’m saying is, as strong as our testimonies and faith may be, even with all the good Heavenly Father tells us about ourselves, idle words are still powerful and can have long-lasting repercussions.

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland asked us in Conference a few years back when he spoke on this topic,

“Is this something we could all work on just a little? Is this an area in which we could each try to be a little more like a “perfect” man or woman?”

We’re taught “That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment” (Matthew 12:36), and that “…our words will condemn us.” (Alma 12:14) Those reminders always make me uncomfortable because, like feathers from a down pillow flying through the wind, I don’t know how to capture all the thoughtless things I’ve said in my life.

I have so many regrets, I know I’ve hurt so many people either carelessly or unknowingly or even on purpose when I’ve been tired or weak or hurt myself. I know I have room to improve. Maybe most of us do. But I also know it’s not hopeless and I know we can do better.

How Words Affect Us Positively

Can you recall some of the positive things people have told you over the years? I honestly struggled with this. I know I’ve received compliments or praise in the past, but I don’t know where I’ve put them. I asked my husband for some examples, and he also drew a blank.

“But there’s a problem: the brain barely responds to our positive words and thoughts. They’re not a threat to our survival, so the brain doesn’t need to respond as rapidly as it does to negative thoughts and words.” (, “The Most Dangerous Word in the World”)

Studies differ, but scientists suggest we need anywhere from three to 20 positive interactions to combat the effects of one negative comment.

“I can live for two months on a good compliment.” (Mark Twain)

Maybe it’s because my love language is words, but I can live for decades on a compliment. (Maybe it’s because I can’t remember many, so I have to hold on to the couple I know.)

I do remember my 8th-grade English class where our teacher praised an essay I’d written about the novel 1984; she even read it aloud to the class. It was such a small thing, but unknowingly, Mrs. Forrester was the catalyst to a life full of writing. She helped me see something in myself that I had no idea I’d want to develop and would come to enjoy so much. Her simple words were a powerful force in my life. And it’s because of the kind and encouraging words of others throughout my life that I feel confident in pursuing something I love so much. So much power in something as small as words, you never know the impact they can have.

Words can be powerful tools as we “succor the weak, lift up the hands which hang down, and strengthen the feeble knees”. (Doctrine and Covenants 81:5)

One Kind Word

I heard a great idea in a youth talk. A mom wrote a short compliment on a sticky note each day and just stuck it on her daughter’s bedroom door. I imagine most parents don’t think their teenagers would care that much about a little sentence on a sticky note. But this daughter kept them all on the inside of her door until it was covered.


With all the figurative negative sticky notes the world sticks on us all day, it’s comforting and strengthening to have someone you love and look up to tell you the good she sees in you.

I know I see good things in my kids all the time. And I sometimes forget to say anything or point out what I notice. I know we don’t need to puff up our kids by being fake and over-the-top, but genuine, specific praise helps us want to live up to what others see. Keep in mind how many positives we need to express to repudiate just one negative.

Words build connections. A meaningful letter that you save and re-read, an intimate talk with someone close. Words can powerfully weld hearts together.

Steward of Our Words

Here are four suggestions on ways to be a mindful, loving and caring word steward.

1. Remember We’ve Made Covenants to Follow Christ and to Help Each Other.

“…I have said these things unto you that I might awaken you to a sense of your duty to God….” (Alma 7:22) Remember the words of our covenant, “Ye are desirous to come into the fold of God, and to be called his people, and are willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light; Yea and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all places that ye may be in….” (Mosiah 18:9) We’ve made covenants to love our neighbor as ourselves and to not bear false witness and to show our love for God, which always goes right back to loving His sons and daughters.

As we strive to keep our covenants and become better stewards of our words, we can always count on our Savior as our model. He spoke calmly and peacefully, intimately, and clearly. He spoke from His heart and encouraged others to do the same. You’d never, ever imagine Him saying anything that would put anyone in a bad light or with a small group of followers talking about the ones who used to be with them but have gone their own way. He would never make light of another’s misfortune or do anything but offer help and love and support. In everything we do—and especially say—we are always right when we follow Christ’s example.

2. Look for and Focus on the Good in People.

Most of us already know and feel the heaviness of our own shortcomings. Most of us are dealing with something most people know nothing about. The Lord expects us to give each other the benefit of the doubt. We are usually safer assuming that every person we meet is doing the best they can. Even when we feel we are fairly certain we know the situation and are pretty sure they are not doing the best they can do, we just need to be kind. Think of how you’d feel in a similar situation and consider how you can use words to help. “Therefore, strengthen your brethren in all your conversation, in all your prayers, in all your exhortations, and in all your doings” and “Cease to contend one with another; cease to speak evil one of another… and let your words tend to edifying one another”. (Doctrine and Covenants 136:23-24)

Sometimes we hardly realize what we’re doing. I remember a lesson in Relief Society back when we were first married that has stuck with me ever since. I don’t know if the lesson was on this topic or not, but the teacher told how she and her husband would hang out with another couple or couples for an evening and then on the ride home together would talk about how the other couples did things, about their parenting methods, how they would do things differently. After a while this woman realized what they had been doing. She said she loved these couples, they were their close friends, but she and her husband had been tearing them down by talking critically about them, even though they certainly didn’t have malicious intentions. But that’s just it. We have to be so careful, even when we’re talking with our spouses. In most instances, we would be wise to simply hold our tongues when we have nothing good to say.

One of the destructive things I’ve seen is when youth talk about other youth or when we talk about the youth ourselves. They are already trying to navigate some of the toughest years of their lives. The last thing they (or their parents) need is neighbors or ward members talking about them, dissecting their lives, whispering about what they’re wearing or who they’re dating or whether or not they’re coming to church. Instead, we can take note of all the good they do and exude love simply and easily with kind and supportive words.

As followers of Christ, we should do nothing but focus on the good in others and support each other. Look for the good and you will find it.

3. Be Someone Others Can Trust.

We need to become this kind of person so we can become effective instruments for the Lord. He needs women who can listen and counsel and keep things to herself. He needs priesthood holders at the helm that He can trust to keep confidences. It’s crucial that He can count on us.

For me, this is a top priority in any relationship. Not only with my husband, but with my kids and sisters and friends. We want people in our lives we can depend on. I have so much respect for the small circle of friends I know I can trust implicitly. They are my go-to’s and I never had to remind them to keep something to themselves, they have never once let me down. One couple we’re friends with has this almost as a mantra, “Your name is safe in our home,” and they live it, which totally inspires us and makes us want to be more like that.

I’ve heard some wise counsel over the years that can help us become more trustworthy:  Don’t say anything you wouldn’t want the person you’re discussing to hear or that you would be embarrassed about if they found out. (They almost always do.) Even if you aren’t saying anything, your presence in a conversation can be construed as participation.

Ask ourselves,

  • “Is it true?”
  • “Is it kind?“
  • “Is it necessary?”

Most of the time we get hung up on the fact that it’s true without bothering to consider if it were us, would we want it shared? And really, is it necessary to share everything we know about other people? I had a wise friend back in Illinois, years older than me, who—even though it was a constant at that stage of our life—simply didn’t share new pregnancy news. She always said it wasn’t her news to share, and “How often do you get to tell people you’re pregnant?” She never shared what wasn’t hers to tell.

We can ask ourselves, “What is my motive in sharing this?” The teachers at our school use this all the time when the kids are tattling on someone: “Is it helping or hurting?” If someone hurts himself by falling off the slide, it’s helpful to walk him to the office and tell the secretary. But it’s not necessary to tell the whole class. Similarly, if someone you minister to lost his job, it’s helpful to mention that to the bishop in confidence. But it’s not your place to tell the whole elders quorum.

Eleanor Roosevelt once shared an often-used quote:

“Great minds discuss ideas. Average minds discuss events. Small minds discuss people.”

Unless we are in a leadership position or truly in a relationship that would necessitate it, we should tread very carefully when people become the topic of our conversations. But, even then, we should be very, very judicious, and careful that presidency meetings don’t become gossip sessions. I appreciated the way one Relief Society president I worked with guarded private information. She would simply mention there was a sister in the ward who was struggling and that we needed to pray for her. She wouldn’t give us details about confidential issues, but she knew these sisters needed prayers. It feels good to know what’s going on in a ward, but I’ve realized that sometimes we use the umbrella of a presidency to share information that we don’t really need to discuss, that’s none of our business.

An Ensign article from 1998 reflects this point well.

 “When I chided an acquaintance for not telling me that a couple we both knew had gotten divorced—something I thought would probably be common knowledge—her simple explanation put her on my people-you-can-trust list, and I immediately perceived her as a woman of honor and character.
‘I just wasn’t completely sure if it was something they wanted discussed yet,’ she said. I now knew that anything I told her would be kept confidential. Had she filled me in quickly on any details or, worse, conjecture, she unwittingly would have revealed that she was not careful with information.” (Name Withheld, Ensign, April 1998)

I think we can all relate to times when we need a trusted friend. When something serious comes up in our lives, maybe a delicate health or family issue, just something we don’t want everyone to know but that we need support with, we suddenly long for someone we can trust. We all have friends we love being with, but I cling to the words of my patriarchal blessing, “Choose your close friends wisely.” The best way I know to determine who I can trust is to pay attention to how they keep others’ confidences.

Additional insights from the previously-mentioned Ensign article included:

“Years ago I struggled for a time with some personal difficulties. I longed for someone I could really trust and talk to. I quickly eliminated those people I had heard talking about others, revealing confidences, and speaking carelessly. Was there anyone I could turn to? Finally, I remembered a loving relative I could trust implicitly.
“As we talked and I bared my heart, I knew deep in my soul that my words would never be repeated. How fortunate that during a difficult, challenging time I could find a warm, safe shelter, a caring individual who would treasure my confidence and guard my personal information. Many times since I have vowed to offer that same shelter and warmth for others.”

Let’s also remember to use prayer.  We can start fresh every day, asking Heavenly Father to help us avoid the temptation to gossip, for the wisdom to know when to leave or switch gears in a conversation, to know what words to use to strengthen those around us and to know who needs us and when the timing is best to talk.

4. We Need the Holy Ghost.

He will help us notice when we’re slipping or when the conversation is getting uncomfortable. He will help us remember our covenants and prompt us to repent and give us courage to make amends when we’ve offended someone.


Our son is in Oxnard, California. What he loves the most about this area is the ward’s excitement for missionary work, obviously. He told us in the last two years the ward he’s in has gone from around 80 to almost 180 in attendance at Sacrament meeting. I of course wanted to know what made the big difference. He said that they focused on ministering sister and brother visits and missionary work of course. But then he told me something that surprised me and has stuck with me. The bishop basically told everyone that they need to quit gossiping and getting offended and realize this isn’t a social church, but they are literally God’s children.

When I read that his bishop had been so bold, I was a little surprised. But then what I heard was an urgency, a call to put aside the pettiness and un-Christlike behavior so that they could become what Heavenly Father needed them to be.

We are followers of Christ. We have made covenants that we will take His name on us, that we will lift and help the people around us, not make life harder for them. We don’t have time to waste on gossip or unkind words. We are sons and daughters of God who should be so busy preparing for Christ to come again that the last thing we have time for is idle chit chat that does nothing but hurt people we love. “…For the devil laugheth, and his angels rejoice” (3 Nephi 9:2) when we’re distracted from our divine purpose.

“Our words, like our deeds, should be filled with faith and hope and charity. With such words, spoken under the influence of the Spirit, tears can be dried, hearts can be healed, lives can be elevated, hope can return, confidence can prevail.” (Jeffrey R. Holland, “The Tongue of Angels”, Ensign, May 2007)

I know Christ is real and that He is depending on us to be the disciples we’ve covenanted to be. I know He will help us use our words to strengthen each other if we ask for His help and follow His perfect example.

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