Our society thrives on words. In The Storytelling Animal, Jonathan Gottschall discusses how humans live off of and need stories to survive. Although some stories could solely involve a movement, dance, or facial expression, most include words. We read, write, sing, speak, and sign them. Generally, we view words in two extremes:
We either think they hold all meaning
Because even the smallest of words can be the ones to hurt you, or save you.
Or they should be ignored entirely
The older I get, the less I listen to what people say and the more I look at what they do.
– Andrew Carnegie
This teeter-totter of the relevance of words seems to always be in action. For example, the media is blamed constantly for the words they do or do not say in their coverage. I’ve heard many claim they don’t watch the news because it simply isn’t the truth anymore. Likewise, most people don’t listen to much of what their family members or friends say during the day, for their repetitive stories don’t have much meaning behind them (no really cares about your sister’s husband’s brother’s crazy wife). And most everyone can remember a time when a lover swept them off their feet with such beautiful words that only turned out to be lies. We tell ourselves today that next time we won’t listen to the next sap who comes around telling us how amazing we are (but probably not, right?).
So, no to words. They mean nothing. But what about those books whose language made you fly to another country, in another century. The inspirational movies that made you finally figure out what you wanted in life. The poem that dug into the darkest corner of your soul and turned the light back on. Those words meant quite a lot to you, sometimes even enough to have you running back to read the same note or listen to the same voice mail over and over again.
Although most of us would like to only allow words help us momentarily escape from our reality, some can make us want to permanently run away. Cyber-bullying or any other kind of verbal abuse can hurt just as bad as a slap across the face and can perform damage that stays longer inside our minds than a bruise on an arm. Thousands of studies have proven verbal bullying links with depression which is the number one cause of suicide. If words don’t mean anything, if we only acknowledge them when they are telling us things we want to hear, then how could they be the catalyst in so many of our decisions? A single word could end a relationship or a life.
Ultimately, words have power whether we like to admit it or not. Don’t brush off the ones that trigger certain emotions; they could help you understand a deeper problem. And when those words of enlightenment or inspiration do come around, share them knowing they will somehow speak to another.
It’s our decision whether to use words as daggers or rose petals.
“I have hated words and I have loved them, and I hope I have made them right.”
― Markus Zusak, The Book Thief