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Do you ever notice that most people are most their productive right before they leave for a big vacation? That’s when the to-do list is brought out: major projects at work that need to be wrapped up, the mail to be put on hold, decisions on what to pack, and so on. As the trip approaches, things are prioritized so that the most important tasks get the most energy and attention. After all, once that plane’s gone, there’s no chance to go back and get things done.


That’s just how most of us operate. The more that we are aware of limits or deadlines, the bigger the urge to be productive, to focus on the things that are most important so that we aren’t left with any regrets.

We’re surrounded by limits and deadlines — from the number of minutes in an hour to the number of characters that Twitter will allow you post. And of course, there is the unknowable limit of our life’s length. So why do we treat life as if it was being measured by a stopwatch? What if we approached it as a countdown instead?

While we don’t know when our life will end, we do know that it will. One can definitely say that there is a limited number of breaths that we will take, of sunsets that we can enjoy, and perhaps most importantly, the words that we share. Like carving out a work of sculpture, we should cut away the inessential so that the beautiful can remain. In other words, to live a life that is worth telling.

Have you ever known someone who spent money carelessly, as if it were limitless? We often treat our own words as if they were worthless, spilling them out without consideration.

In the past few weeks, we have been inundated with horrors that present a gruesome reflection of humankind: murders in the Ukraine, Gaza and in Ferguson, Mo. Each of these have launched a series of disturbing, racist comments where individuals were more concerned with the politics of the situation than the loss of human life.

If we want to change the world, we need to change our words.

A few years ago, I was asked to write a piece with a very limited prompt. This was my response.

If I could share 500 words to inspire, this is the important wisdom I’d want to pass along to others: make every word count.

I once heard that “language is the primary moral choice in our life.” The words we choose can build communities, reunite loved ones, and inspire others. They can be a catalyst for change. However, our words also have the power to destroy and divide: they can start a war, reduce a lifelong relationship to a collection of memories, or end a life.

If there is anything in life worthy of consideration, it should be the way that we use words. In nearly every creation story, life begins from words. In every civilization, it has been the storytellers, the oracles, the writers, and the masters of language that have ruled.

It is often said to live every day as if it were the last. The words that you use should be considered with equal weight. If your life could only be judged by your words, how would you be remembered?

Would your good intentions be overshadowed by negativity, gossip, sarcasm, and bitterness? Would your words be remembered as

inspirational, loving, full of hope and treasured by the community around you?

Your life becomes better only when you become better. Begin with the words that you choose to shape the world around you. Everything that we know and believe in this life depends on the context of the words that we allow into our lives and the words that we share with others.

With only a single life to live, there is no excuse to waste time by creating more negativity and dejection in our world.

Let’s renounce cynicism as the primary vehicle for change in the world.

If you only had a limited number of words to share with others, what would you say? If you are only going to be remembered by your final words, what would you say? Say it.

Beginning right now, make every word count.

Simon Tam plays bass for The Slants, a Portland rock ‘n’ roll band having a tough time trademarking its name because the

federal trademark agency thinks “slants” is racially insensitive. He is also marketing director for Oregon Environmental Council. This column was taken from Tam’s Sept. 13 TEDx talk at the Elsinore Theater in Salem.

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