More than a decade ago, I experienced one of the most terrifying moments of my life. I survived, but just barely. I am certain the moment will live on in my memory for decades to come.

I accompanied a group of preteen girls to camp, and stayed in the dorm with them.

Just in case you’re thinking of becoming a camp counselor, I must warn you. It’s not a job for the faint of heart. Or for anyone over 40. The hours are long. The noise level breaks the sound barrier. And sleep? What’s that?

I knew what I was getting into when I agreed to serve as a counselor. But then, it was time for afternoon free choice activities, and I’m almost afraid to tell you what I saw, what I took part in.

I’ll tell you anyway.

I watched a bunch of eight to 12 year old girls practice their rifling skills. Yes, you read correctly. A bunch of rosy-cheeked, pigtailed little girls with BB guns in their hands, target shooting. And more than once, I had to do some fancy footwork as one of those girls accidentally swung her gun barrel in my direction like a quail-hunting vice president.

I think it’s great that an expert took the time to teach these girls gun safety. It’s a life skill every true Texan needs. You never know when the bad guys are gonna ride up on black horses with bandanas tied around their faces. If that happens, I won’t fear. I feel safe. The little girls can protect me.

I’ve heard it said that guns are the most dangerous of all weapons. They are easily accessible, and they can greatly injure or kill a person. While I agree that guns are extremely dangerous, I know of one weapon that’s even more accessible. In fact, everyone I know has one.

The weapon I’m thinking of has the potential to destroy lives. And yes, it has even killed people, or at least caused their deaths. To me, this weapon is more frightening than any gun, for I’ve been the victim of its power more than once. You probably have, too.

I’m talking about the tongue.

Our words have the power to give life, or to destroy lives. All too often, we use that power for evil instead of good. While most of us would never dream of handling a gun without using the proper safety precautions, many of us aim our words carelessly, leaving a bleeding, broken path of victims in our wake.

Remember that saying, Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me? That’s wrong. Words hurt a lot worse than sticks or stones. And they take longer to heal, too.

But here’s the great news: the same power that can be used for evil can also be used for good. Words can destroy, but they also have the power to build up, to encourage, to give life. We just have to learn to exercise a little “tongue safety.”

Easier said than done, I know. But if we try, we can all control our tongues better. We just need to remember that we carry a weapon. Before we speak, we need to ask ourselves: Is what I’m about to say positive or negative? Could my words hurt someone? Am I building others up, or am I tearing them down?

If we can’t think of something kind and loving and encouraging to say, we really do need to put our tongues into safety mode, and stay silent. Though this is difficult at first, we’ll find that with practice our words will be more positive. More loving. Before we know it, those lovely words will become a lovely habit. Soon, everyone around us will feel safe. And that’s a pretty good feeling.

Renae Brumbaugh Green is a bestselling author and award-winning humor columnist. She lives in Stephenville with her handsome, country-boy husband, nearly-perfect children, and far too many animals. Connect with Renae at