It’s said that words only have power if you let them; that sticks and stones may break your bones, but words can never hurt you. But what about when it comes to words of love and positivity? We’re happy to accept the power of these words and are instantly affected by them, so how can it be so easy to ignore the bad ones?
I believe words have power. It may not always be a direct power that can harm, or even uplift, but words can teach and influence unknowingly, in a way that can be far more devastating. More often than not these words can be used completely unintentionally.
The other day while at work, I was cleaning up a mug in my office’s kitchen. A little bit of backstory – the kitchen is always beyond a state, people do not wash their own plates up etc. and it’s generally gross. A colleague of mine approached me and was shocked to see me washing up my own dishes, I pointed out my mother raised me well.
I work in a predominantly female office, so my colleague (who knows I am gay) said, “Well, if you were a real boy I would tell you not to date any of the girls here.”
Pause for confused/eye-of-shame stare.
I calmly said, “Excuse me? What’s exactly is your definition of a ‘real boy’? Because last time I checked I have every component that makes me one and I think the rest of the company would be interested to hear.”
She was obviously taken a back by my response and you could see her going over what she had said in her head and realizing how offensive it was and she began to stutter as she nervously apologised. Now, I am not usually one to say anything in these situations, because I knew her and I knew she didn’t mean ill by it. But in that split second I thought what the ricocheting affect her words could have been.
Could you imagine having a young boy, who might or might not be questioning his own sexuality, hearing those words? That to like men over women makes you not real, not significant or recognizable to everyone else?[tweetability]“That’s what careless words do. They make people love you a little less.” ~ Arundhati Roy[/tweetability]
Words have power and questions of sexuality and using the term ‘gay’ for anything perceived opposite of the norm are just the beginning. How often do you say ‘Oh, I’m having a blonde moment’ when you do something dumb, or how many times have you chastised yourself as a ‘retard’ or ‘spaz’ for being forgetful or silly. Or probably one of the most common, how often do we, as men and women, make jokes about women being ‘on’ when they show signs of emotion and anger or generally use a female characteristic as something derogatory.
I know it can seem as if we are moving into overly-P.C. territory but we need to start somewhere. It’s not easy, God knows I blow it all the time and I am forever trying, but we must be careful with the words we choose. The un-thoughtful and incorrect use of words filters into every aspect of society, and their power and influence are widespread.[tweetability]“You can’t hammer in a nail with words… No, but you can start a war with them.” ~ Ben Galley[/tweetability]
We’ve all heard of children taking their lives because they thought who they were was wrong because of the flippant choices we all make in our vocabulary – and to make matters worse, it is more often than not the people who actually accept and support the LGBTQ community and love blondes, or understand the disabled who use these words the most. They think it doesn’t matter as they don’t mean it that way but if you are putting those words out into the world you are offering up the chance for other people to think you do, and you’re giving the people who do actually think those ways license to use them negatively. The more we carelessly use words, the more unbalance we create and the miss-perceptions of people and things we can create.
If there is one person who I have learnt about the power of words from the most it is Maya Angelou. She had often spoken of her abhorrence of the n-word. I thought long about whether to even type the word into this post, but I decided not to as I do not own this word, I do not have a connection to it and I cannot begin to understand it’s history and the gravitas it holds. But Maya used to say how the use of the word by her community opened them up to having it used continually against them. It’s the same for LGBTQ men and women who still use ‘gay’ a pejorative.
I’ve included a short video form her about the power of words, I urge you to watch it and think about it’s content.
It’s amazing how strong our words can be, considering our tongues have no bones yet they can still break a heart or shatter a dream. But our words also have the chance to heal, to uplift, to educate and encourage. There is an argument, and a valid one, that words only have power if you allow them to. But My response to this is that it is something that is learnt over time, experience and previous overcoming. No one is born with the ability to be unaffected, and to begin to raise children with that sense to also strip them of the beauty and meaning of words in my opinion, the good and the bad is all part of their wonder. I’d bring it back to the point of if you carelessly use words around those who are not in the same position to deal with them as you may be, you will actively, even if unintentionally, putting the connotations and plications out into the world.
“Words - so innocent and powerless as they are, as standing in a dictionary, how potent for good and evil they become in the hands of one who knows how to combine them.” - Nathaniel Hawthorne
My task for you this week is to pay attention to words that come out of your mouth. How many times do you, or those around you, use these slanderous terms without even a moments pause. I urge you to write it down and analyse it, be honest with yourself and seek to do better the next week. Be that split-second filter in yours or someone else’s thought process.
It’s a never-ending process, and I’d love it if you joined in on the journey with me.
Have a great week, guys. Use your words to make it a powerful one.
This post was updated to include an additional thought on the argument that words only hold power if you let them.