Over the past weeks, since the historic U.S. Presidential election, we’ve been bombarded with words. The media, blog posts and social media arguments have been blowing up with negativity, anger, viciousness and fear. It’s as though a black cloud of vitriol has overtaken every aspect of our lives. People are spewing words but not listening to the words being spoken back to them. There is no discussion,only venom. Words have become weapons to deny, belittle, attack and wound.
This saddens me because I love words.
As far back as I can remember, words have been important in my life.
As a young child, my beloved Grandma encouraged me to write and publish my little poems and stories for the Western Producer. Because we lived far apart, she would also send me cards and letters. I loved receiving mail and, after reading her words and feeling them in my heart, I would sit down immediately and write back to her.
In middle school, probably Grade 6 or 7, I had an exceptional teacher, Mr. Owen Corcoran whose encouragement allowed me to complete my very first “book”. I remember how caught up I got in my story, how the words flowed out of me, seemingly without effort, and how proud I was to have an adult tell me my work “was the highlight of my literary year”.
Words have always helped me attempt to answer questions I had about my place in the world. I was a shy, quiet child and words were my friends when others were cruel and uncaring. As a teenager, whose home life was often fraught with fear, uncertainty and less-than-happy times, I would turn to my words for comfort – by reading or writing them. My angst-filled poems spoke for me when my voice was stuck in my throat for fear of ridicule or contempt.
Of course, the teen years also carried with them the yearning to fit in; to be popular, yet not knowing quite how that was done; the inevitability of doing stupid things; making mistakes; loving the wrong people; having my heart broken and my feelings left bruised and battered. But by retreating to my room with notebook and pen I could mercilessly throw down words that could give voice to my pain, frustration, and confusion without hurting anyone else because no one ever saw them. But I could read and re-read them and they comforted me in a way nothing else did.
I could have turned to booze or drugs but, instead, I turned to words.
Words saved me.
Words continue to bring me comfort by giving voice to the cyclone of thoughts that whirl through my mind. The action of releasing my thoughts to a blank page where I can see them, try them out, make sense of them and be calmed by them is like having my own personal therapist.
And I love to read the words that others have masterfully woven together to create a tapestry of life. To visualize strong characters; to feel the intent and wisdom of the words sink into me and cause me to nod in agreement or gasp in disbelief; to be entertained or taught or changed, are gifts that the words of other writers give to me.
But I’ve also witnessed how words can cause pain, hurt and destruction when used as weapons to belittle and denigrate others. Whether it’s in the angry words used to lash out at a spouse or a child, or a post on social media (as we hide behind our keyboards), the power of words can be undeniably caustic if used without consideration of their strength.
For it is the intent in which our words are given that shapes the result. As with everything we do in life, we should take a moment to think before we speak; to offer up our words with compassion, empathy, understanding, and grace – even if the only one we offer them to is ourselves. Hurtful or negative self-talk can be just as damaging as words spoken or written to others.
Though they are simple black markings on paper, they also become thoughts in our minds or utterances spoken out loud. They have the ability to heal, to hurt, to comfort, to inspire and to blame, to launch a movement or to entertain us when we want to escape.
They can carry the most power even when used sparingly and succinctly:
When we communicate our deepest feelings or opinions through words we must be ever-mindful of our intent because “once a word is said it cannot be unsaid” and the resulting effect can be more far-reaching than you can imagine.
Be wise with your words. Treat them as rare jewels and offer them with thought and respect. Allow them to lift others up. Use them to heal and bring comfort.
Or don’t use them at all.