Monday, May 18, 2009
The Power of Words
I have been stringing words together on paper for as long as I can remember. The more I do it the more I find myself working to put them together to express my meaning as precisely and succinctly as possible. I don’t do this for the art of it, or the political correctness, or to meet acceptable practices. I do it to make certain I am imparting my intended meaning to the reader. But in writing, as in speaking, it is hard to know if the reader, or listener, is actually hearing what you believe you are saying.
The process of writing allows the writer the time to think about what they want to say and it is a very forgiving form of communication. You can take back your words before you even put them out to be read. You can reconsider your choice of words and your message. You can double check their meaning and arrangement to prevent misunderstanding…if you choose to do so. There are some writers who just toss their words out hit or miss…more interested in getting things off their chest than communicating with others. The internet, its chat rooms and blogs, has become the dumping grounds for this sort of mindless prattle, a place to perform self-psychotherapy or an ego massage.
I have never been a person who communicates well with the spoken word but on occasion I have been mesmerized by a speaker who can articulate in such a meaningful and artful way as to have a profound and extraordinary impact on me. I have had professors and a few friends who have been gifted enough to take the spoken word and create an oral design not dissimilar from what the best writers do with the written word.
It has been said that the pen is mightier than the sword, but I believe it is more accurate to say that words are mightier than weapons of mass destruction. I am sure there is not one of you among us who has not had the wind taken out of their sails by a flip comment made by a friend or a loved one; demolished by thoughtless verbal cruelty by someone who knows just enough about you to hit you between the eyes with a teasing comment, made all the more lethal by the fact that it was delivered by someone who you thought had your best interests at heart – by someone who you thought loved you.
Words can cut like a knife and leave us bleeding. I have been more wounded by those who speak than those who write because I can choose to slam the cover on a written word, or tear up the paper before the damage is done. But when words are flung into the air, carried by vibrations from your mouth to my ear, it’s too late to block them out. It’s too late for the sender to take them back. Apologies, second thoughts, rarely heal the wound. The cut that has been rendered often leaves a scar. I can’t remember a time I have been wounded in this way by the written word. The space between the writer and the reader creates an insulation of sorts.
We would do well to consider our words more carefully before inflicting them on others, whether we write them or speak them. The old adage “if you haven’t got something nice to say, don’t say anything at all” was undoubtedly thought up and delivered by someone who had been scarred by the words of friends or loved ones. While many of us avoid passing through the partly open doors of today’s churches and synagogues, the teachings that were once passed along in those hallowed halls, though not always perfectly imparted, were instructive. There are now several generations of people, starting with ours, who have chosen freedom of speech over respectability; self-centeredness over consideration; honesty at any cost over kindness. I wonder how much of this change has taken place because we no longer are guided by any moral, ethical, or religious compass, a directional that preached kindness at the very least, and in the best moments, loving kindness.
We now seem to be so sure we understand love better than our forefathers, when in reality I believe we have wandered far astray. If any who read these written words can hearken back to a day when love of others was a religious or moral directive, I would urge you to consider the words you speak to those you claim to love and care for. I would hope that you would think about their potential damage to those upon whom they are heaped. Weigh carefully before you toss the flip comment, sarcastic dig or cruel eye rolls that are more about you and your anger and insecurity than the person upon whom you toss them.
We have all experienced hurt. We have all bled from another's thoughtless words. We all have scars from those who were supposed to love us. Rather than choosing to lash out or strike back, perhaps we might consider “turning the other cheek” choosing our words more carefully in return. What we want to say and mean to say are two different things. Let us speak from the true source of honestly within us…the source that speaks the truth...a truth more likely our own need and desire to love than the flip reactionary comment that only serves to drive others away.