The three moments that changed the way Amanda Gillies lives her life

''To the sound of tears, my mother marched out and said to the boys, 'If you haven't got anything nice to say, say nothing.'''

“There are three moments in my life that resonate from my childhood, my first day at work, and a recent experience. I still recall playing outside as a six-year-old, watching my elder brother play-fighting with a friend.

The soft punches were soon replaced by verbal assaults – nasty words and name-calling. It was personal and brutal. To the sound of tears, my mother marched out and said to the boys, ‘If you haven’t got anything nice to say, say nothing.’

The boys shut up and moved on. But I hung onto those words.

‘If you haven’t got anything nice to say, say nothing.’ It’s a powerful statement. Words can hurt. Words can devastate. And words can ultimately kill.

A growing number of Kiwis, particularly young ones, are taking their own lives, devastated by the careless and brutal use of words in the playground and on social media. We need to be careful with what we say, what words we use, and to whom.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t live a life of superlatives or silence. I’m still guilty of a hurtful throwaway line, for an easy laugh or in the heat of the moment. But for the most part, I try. I try to be nicer, kinder, and gentler; I try to be more understanding; I try to say nothing when not-so-nice words are begging to be used.

And it was when one of ‘those’ words escaped, during my first day as a print journalist, more than two decades ago, that I received my second life lesson.

I was asked to write up the Country Women’s Institute meeting. I had been given the barely decipherable, hand-written notes of one of the institute’s elderly members and told to transcribe them for their column. I had imagined breaking stories, in-depth investigations, front-page exclusives – not this. I uttered a not-for-print expletive under my breath and reluctantly began the task.

My uncle was the Gisborne Herald editor at the time, a brilliant and well respected, award-winning journalist. He said to me, ‘Amanda, every story matters to someone.’

That column, he said, would be read and appreciated by the members, their friends and their family. I needed to put the same effort, energy and expertise into every story I did.

The big and so-called minor stories had to be approached the same way. It was simple but wise advice, and it changed my career. From that day on, it was a driving force. Every story I did mattered to someone – and my love for journalism and storytelling grew.

In fairness, my ability to tell stories has changed over the past two years – I’m no longer out in the field, but in the studio for The AM Show. My alarm goes off at 3.30am every morning and sometimes I struggle with that. I get tired, I lose focus and my tolerance level goes down. But recently I got a wake-up call I wasn’t expecting but needed.

My co-host Mark Richardson was on holiday and replaced by sports star Gemma McCaw. We were talking in the ad break and she remarked that she tried to be the best version of herself – ‘It’s so important to be the best version of you… for you and your loved ones.’ Her words hit a nerve.

I haven’t been that. I’ve been too tired – to exercise, to socialise, to eat properly, to be good to my mind and body, my family and friends. I have not been the best version of me and I didn’t like that. Something had to change. And it did.

I tweaked my diet, re-jigged my schedule, booked a holiday, and put my walking shoes back on… And I am now on my way to being back to my best version of me.”

To read about other Kiwi celebrities’ life lessons, including designer Trelise Cooper, Green MP Golriz Ghahraman, influencer Makaia Carr and 1 News anchor Wendy Petrie, pick up the latest issue of NEXT magazine, on sale now.

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