I’ve always been a words person. I need to read, hear, feel, see, and taste words—and I need them to stick. While some people think and understand the world best visually, audibly, or kinesthetically, I am a firm believer in words and the opportunity they hold. Words—spoken and unspoken—have the capability to express the simplest and most profound of thoughts, feelings, ideas, theories, and beyond, more so than you may ever have thought.
Words and their influence
At a young age, you were probably given this piece of advice: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Honestly, this is one of the most BS lessons you can teach to a young child. Of course, it’s beneficial to teach young folks to have the self-confidence to not let bullies bring ya down, but this cutesy life lesson also neglects to address the concept of thinking before speaking and choosing your words carefully before communicating—both orally and in writing.
In today’s world of constant connectivity via group chats, social media, email, FaceTime, etc., there are limitless opportunities to exercise your right to Freedom of Speech and for your voice to be heard by more people than ever before in this digital age. But with great opportunity comes great responsibility. It is ridiculously easy to share a news story on Facebook loaded with false information, subtweet your ex after a rocky breakup, or send a spiteful email to a client who’s getting on your last nerve.
In the heat of the moment, the words you’re speaking or typing may feel completely valid—and maybe they’ll still resonate true even hours after expressing them. However, you can’t take words back once they’re out there (even on the internet)—no matter how much you may come to regret them… if you do.
Think before you speak… and type.
Now more than ever, it’s beyond important as an ally to think about the words you choose before speaking or posting them. It’s no secret that in today’s political and social climate, hundreds of thousands of people are feeling extremely powerful emotions: infuriated, uneasy, under-represented, defeated, and unsafe… yet, courageous, empowered, supported, resilient, and tenacious at the same time. Taking this into consideration, both the ideologies and vernacular you decide to engage with and communicate to the public will weigh heavy in your social circle. Believe it or not, your words have an impact; even if what you say influences just one person in how they think or act, that is the manifestation of your words into action, whether for the worse or the betterment of your community.
Make it a point to ask yourself the following questions before you speak, press ‘Send’ on that email or ‘Post’ on your social media update:
- Is what I want to say necessary?
- Is what I want to say truthful and supported by reliable data?
- Does what I want to say alienate marginalized groups?
- Are the words I’m choosing the most appropriate to communicate my thoughts or ideas?
- Is this the best medium to deliver my thoughts or ideas?
Your words hold power. Use them wisely.
As much as we’d like to believe that words will never hurt us, they can and they do—directly and indirectly. Instead of teaching our children that words do not have the power to provoke harm, let’s shift the focus on mindfulness about what we’re saying, how we’re saying it and why we chose to say it in the first place.