By Tim Hayes

Copywriters and graphic designers working on advertisements for magazines know about the “Stopper” – the headline or visual image that causes a person leafing through the publication to freeze in their tracks.  They must pause at that page and learn more. 

The Stopper holds immense power precisely because it refuses to be ignored.

Certain phrases and statements that one may hear over the course of a life and career qualify as verbal Stoppers.  They demand your focus.  They signify something awesome, whether good or bad.  When it comes to a Stopper, attention must be paid.

Perhaps I’m thinking along these lines today because I came from church a little while ago with a black smudge on my forehead.  Ash Wednesday, when one of the most affecting verbal Stoppers gets heard millions, perhaps billions, of times around the world:

“Remember, man, that you are dust, and unto dust you shall return.”

Whoa.  That is heavy stuff.  In the practice of the faith, that statement – pulled directly from the Book of Genesis – means simply than we came from nothing and our earthly bodies will return to nothing, and that is why human beings need to turn to God.

Standing in line in the center aisle of our parish church with my fellow Catholic grade school classmates on Ash Wednesday, while our elderly German priest grumbled those ancient sobering words and made the ashen crosses on our foreheads, used to scare the pants off of me.  That notion is a lot for a seven-year-old to digest.  I don’t get scared any more, but those words sure do make you think.

Here are some more verbal Stoppers you may have heard along the way:

“The Regional Manager is coming to our office tomorrow morning for a mandatory staff meeting.  All employees must attend.”

In my experience, when you get this one, you’d better brush up your resume.  The curtain is coming down.  You are about to learn what it feels like to be fired, my friend.

“I feel a small lump.”

I wonder if doctors dread saying those words as much as patients dread hearing them.  It could be nothing, and many times that’s how things turn out.  Not always, of course.  But the journey to resolution – whichever way it goes – begins with those words.

And then there are the happier verbal Stoppers.  The words that take your breath away, put the light in your eyes, and knock you off your feet.

“It’s a boy.” (or) “It’s a girl.” (or) “It’s twins.”

My guess is that most couples today don’t wait until the baby is delivered to learn its gender, or how many of them are cooking down there in Mom’s oven.  Technology has long been able to answer that question way before the blessed event occurs.  Either way, that news just bursts with happiness, wonder, expectation, and awe. 

Before our oldest was born, the doctor told us “It’s a girl,” and I swear over the next 10 seconds, I saw in my mind’s eye our daughter as a baby, a toddler, a little girl, a high schooler, a college graduate, and me walking her down the aisle at her wedding.  All from three simple words that changed our world.

And finally, speaking of three little words, here’s the all-time greatest verbal Stopper in history:

“I love you.”

No matter who says it, how old or young they are, or whatever context in which it occurs, that’s the phrase everybody wants to hear and say.  My advice on this Valentine’s Day and every day?  Be sure to use it plenty of times before unto dust you return. 

Copyright 2013 Tim Hayes Consulting