They Were Just Words

By | October 3, 2020

[October 3, 2020]  If there is one thing I had pounded into us as Privates in the U.S. Army, it was that words matter, and they matter a great deal.  But, growing up and living in the civilian world, I learned just the opposite; that words were not just words.  The old saying that “sticks and stones…” is about words not affecting us.  Hogwash!

As a Boy Scout, I learned their motto, Be Prepared.  To me, it was just gibberish, words that I had to memorize, but I had no clue what it really meant.  It was not actionable.  The same thing was true for their Scout Oath and Scout Law.1  A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, etc.; we’ve all heard it before.  But what we don’t do is talk about what it means or how these “words” can help us in our lives.

As a member of a local protestant church, I heard our minister talk about sacrifice.  I heard that offering up of sacrifices is to be regarded as a divine act.  For example, in the Old Testament, we read about how Abel offered a sacrifice “of the best portions of the firstborn of his flock.”2  Never did anyone tell me of the symbolism of sacrifice; that it meant giving up something of value today to attain something in the future.

In the military, we listen to speeches, receive guidance from senior-ranking officers, and read our policies and procedures.  Too many times, I just zoned out.  My attention drifted elsewhere, and I did not stay focused.  Was there value in what they had to say; probably, yes?  Any real value was lost in the fancy words when these leaders talked; it seemed just to talk.

I was wrong.  I was wrong about the words just being words.  I was wrong that there was no practical application for what they were saying.  Words are essential, and they do matter.  Was it my failure that it took me so long to figure this out?  Of course, it was my fault.  Maybe I was too mentally slow, or I didn’t have the proper motivation to receive the message others were trying to deliver.

“Assume that the person you are listening to might know something you don’t.” Dr. Jordan Peterson, Rule 9 in his book, 12 Rules for Life

A lesson that Dr. Jordan Peterson often tells us is to listen to others as if they have something important to say.  When I read his book (I read it twice), this rule jumped out at me.  I sat back and thought that maybe I had made some fundamental mistakes growing up that put me behind my more mature, experienced peers.  Later, I played catch-up with them.  Later in my military career, I spent more time than my peers reading, studying, and working hard to learn those things others gave me.


  2. It made no sense to sacrifice an animal; it was unnecessary when you could pray.
Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article every day on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

24 thoughts on “They Were Just Words

  1. NY Yankee Fan

    Hi, I enjoyed reading your blog over the past few days. I found your perspective to be refreshing- fun & educational. My son and I found your logic to be striking.

  2. Doug Smith

    AMAZING. Thank you Gen. Satterfield and for the many who have made comments below.

  3. Otto Z. Zuckermann

    RIGHT, they are not just words! They have not just meaning like a “rock” is symbolic speech for a hard silicon object. Words have process behind them and stories too.

  4. Edward Kennedy III

    Great job, Gen. Satterfield. I never thought of things this way.
    John 1:1, New International Version: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

    1. Dennis Mathes

      Hey Mr. KIII, good to see you are still reading our blog. Care to write another article. We’d love to see what you are up to these days. 😊

  5. Tony B. Custer

    Learn to read, write, think, and speak clearly and the world will beat a path to your door. Opportunities will open and you will have a prosperous life.

    1. José Luis Rodriguez

      You’re right Tony and I did just that. While many of my friends joined gangs and were gangbanging around our city, I would stay home and read the Bible. That is where I got my inspiration to do good things, moral things.

  6. Eric Coda

    The “symbolism of sacrifice.” Yes, I agree that it takes time for us to come to grips to what that really means. The first thing kids learn is to share their toys in order to have other kids play with them. It’s our first sacrifice. Go figure.

    1. Tracey Brockman

      Excellent point Eric. I never gave this much thought other than kids learning to share was simply part of the growing up process. Gen. Satterfield wrote earlier that one of our parents’ most important tasks is to teach us to be likeable. That gives us more opportunity later. Classic sacrifice.

  7. Harry Donner

    Great article that made me think, Gen. Satterfield, so well done! My mom used to tell me to put my brain in gear before I talked. She also taught me the Bible and what the meaning was behind the stories and “the words”. That is what parents should do and that way when we grow up (if we grow up, some college snowflakes don’t grow up) then we can use those ideas to better ourselves and others.

  8. Gil Johnson

    Respect for others goes a long way to understanding. Today, we are taught that what other people think is unimportant and only what we “feel” is what matters. In other words, we are teaching young folk to be immature and narcissistic. Sad commentary on our education system today and on our political elites for rewarding adolescence.

    1. Lynn Pitts

      Yep, couldn’t have said it any better. Feelings matter. Or so we are told. If our feelings are hurt, then that is violence against us and we are morally obligated to hit back with more violence. In the US Marines, I was taught that my feelings didn’t matter.

    2. Karl J.

      Yes, respect but that only goes so far because some people expect it without giving any of it back.

    3. Len Jakosky

      Your feelings only matter to your friends and family. Forget them when working, emotions will drag you down most of the time.

      1. Willie Shrumburger

        Right, emotions have two sides — motivation and craziness. Both are good but often misused.

      1. JT Patterson

        Go for the Texan accent, sounds better Yusaf. Hey, note this was actually a pretty good article that tells us where a lot of school-age kids are these days. They don’t understand that there are thoughts behind those words.

      2. Forrest Gump

        Too funny. Thanks for interjecting a bit of humor this morning (well, morning here in the USA, anyway).

        1. Yusaf from Texas

          Anytime, man. I like this website guys and you know it because those in this thread have been regular readers and making comments for a few years now. Love to read what you guys write. Thanks.


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