“Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” I remember saying those words when I was a child in hopes of convincing myself that the words being thrown at me weren’t painful. Unfortunately, it is far from true. Words are very powerful and can affect our emotions whether we are reading, writing, saying, listening or thinking them, they effect our being as if they were a live organism.
Words are capable of growing, changing, spreading, and influencing our world in many ways, directly and indirectly through others. I never thought about a word being ‘alive’ but then I thought of words spoken through history, written down and passed through so many generations, they seem quite alive when read or spoken today. When I listen to the powerful speeches of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. I can feel their words reaching out and raising me to my feet some 40 years later. Although I was not born when these words were delivered, their strength and passion still hang on and continue to affect me with the same vigor.
“Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country”
John F. Kennedy
“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” Martin Luther King, Jr.
I feel like I have been hit with a revelation this week regarding the power of words and the authority they can have over our lives. As a believer in our First Amendment, Freedom of Speech, this week has left me stunned.
We are living in a time were our words, whether truthful or lies, courageous or weak, kind or hateful, have the ability of being heard, in some cases by the world, within seconds of leaving our minds via our mouths, phones and computers. Not to mention the over exposure to media sources.
In one week I have listened to the testimony of a young woman who received a “Tweet” about the video that was to air live between Tyler Clementi and a male guest. Her response to reading the “Tweet” was “I really didn’t think much of it.” Have we really become that disconnected that these words would not be given a second thought, soley because they were delivered in the form of a “Tweet” opposed to being spoken?
Is the inability to translate urgency through text an excuse for not reacting? Have we graduated from dumbing ourselves down to numbing ourselves from human connection? Well, I think it’s safe to say that in this case, it was the silence of the words that held so much power they were deadly.
Next I had the opportunity to listen to the testimony of Sandra Fluke, a Georgetown Law student who chose to exercise her Freedom of Speech by presenting not just her position, but the position of many woman regarding the rightwing attacks to limit woman’s access to birth control. Following her testimony Rush Limbaugh, a popular radio talk show host, called her a “slut” and a “prostitute” in response to her position. He spoke these words on his radio show for the ears of his 15 million listeners to hear.
Many people would argue he was just exercising his Freedom of Speech by voicing his opinion on his show. Hey, isn’t that what he gets paid to do? Wasn’t he just doing his job? Of course, but that doesn’t make it right nor does it soften the emotional effect of his words. In his statement of apology he offered these words…. “I chose the wrong words in my analogy of the situation.” Well, although that’s a wonderful revelation by Mr. Limbaugh, it does not erase his original words nor does it provide a second chance to chose the right words.
“Half the world is composed of people who have something to say and can’t, and the other half who have nothing to say and keep on saying it.” –Robert Frost
This is exactly why I will now be more cautious in what I say and how I listen to the words around me. I will take the time to use my words wisely and make a conscious effort to calm and connect, or to create and effect positive change with my words.
CAUTION: THINK before your speak. The words you choose have a profound effect on the people they reach.