formerly Diane's Addled Ramblings... the ramblings are still addled, just like before, and the URL is still the same...
it's just the title at the top of the page that's new

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Word Power...

There are a lot of words being tossed around these days – words about words and how much power they possess. Our political culture is rife with angry, volatile, hateful words. We are surrounded by them… they assault our ears and our eyes, our hearts and our minds… every day. And there is much debate going on about whether or not those angry words contributed to the violence we saw expressed by a mentally disturbed man in Arizona last weekend.

I don’t have the answer to that question. None of us does. No one but the person who committed the act knows what affected him and what didn’t.

But here is what I do know: Words ARE powerful.

I saw a comment on a friend’s Facebook page yesterday… it was similar to comments I’ve seen all over the Internet in the past few days. The commenter said, “I don’t believe, in any way, that anything anyone says can make a person commit a crime.”

In my opinion, anyone who truly believes that knows nothing about human nature at all. Nothing.

Some time ago, I did a blog post about why I write. It began like this:

I write because I believe in the infinite and unassailable power of words – to connect, to affect, to express, to entertain, to disturb, to discover, to educate, to enlighten, to excite, to incite, to soothe, to solve, to illuminate, to inspire. “

“…the infinite and unassailable power of words…”

Words ARE powerful. They have elected leaders… they have begun wars and inspired peace… they have caused and ended family feuds that lasted decades… they have created and soothed great pain.

Words ARE powerful. Anyone who thinks they cannot incite violent behavior – or behavior of any sort – is blind and foolish.

Ask any boy who’s gotten into a fistfight on the playground because he was called ‘chicken.’

Ask any guy who’s been punched in the mouth for insulting another guy’s girlfriend.

Ask any 17-year-old who’s used the words ‘I love you’ to get his girlfriend to consent to sex.

Ask any young girl who’s heard the words, ‘you’re fat’ or ‘you’re ugly.’

Ask any child whose mother said, ‘You ruined my life. I wish you were never born.’

Ask any woman who’s believed the words, ‘I’m sorry’ after being abused by her partner.

Ask anyone who’s heard, ‘I forgive you,’ when they believed they were unforgivable.

Ask anyone who’s been told, ‘I just don’t love you anymore.’

Ask anyone who’s heard, ‘It’s YOUR fault,’ when it wasn’t.

Ask any parent who chooses his/her words carefully, so as not to deflate a little one’s esteem.

Ask anyone who’s ever been affected by a book, a poem, a letter, a speech, a song, a comment.

Words ARE powerful.

We constantly quote and re-use words from the greatest speeches and speakers in our history. Leaders have used words since the beginning of time to rally, to call to action, and to inspire positive, progressive movement. How many times have you heard, ‘I have a dream…’ or ‘Ask not what your country can do for you…’? And for every tragedy we face as a people, it is the words spoken immediately in the aftermath which bring us together.

So how can we doubt, even for a second, that words can affect us negatively, too? How can we think that words will have no effect on the behavior of the people around us?

Words ARE powerful.

I believe that everyone is responsible for his own actions. The man who shot all those people in Arizona last Saturday is responsible for himself, to the degree that his mental condition allows. We are each responsible for ourselves – for our actions and our words. And I truly believe that holds true, to an even greater extent, for the people leading us – those in office; those who would like to be in office; and those who speak publicly about them. They KNOW their words are important… they KNOW their words are powerful… it’s precisely WHY they choose the words they do – to inspire belief, emotion, and action.

Free speech is part of the foundation of our nation, our government, and our society. I wouldn’t want it any other way. But free speech isn’t really free… it comes with a price. And I believe that price is responsibility. I believe strongly that our leaders and media need to be responsible with their words… they need to understand that simply because they CAN say something, it doesn’t mean they SHOULD. They need to understand that the images their words convey WILL affect people – both positively and negatively – so they need to choose those images and words very carefully. They need to be responsible for THEIR words and actions, just as we do. And when they’re not? They need to stand up and say, “I could have done better.” It’s the very least we should be able to expect.

Because words ARE powerful. Never doubt it. Not for a second.


Candace said...

Very well written! You choose your words wisely and use them well!

hebba said...

Very nicely put.

injaynesworld said...

Excellent piece,Diane. Whether directly related to the hate speech that permeates our society today or not, the shooter exists in this environment and it has an influence on shaping who he is. One news pundit defending Limbaugh said, "But what he's saying is just hyperbole." Yes, but the mentally ill don't have the capacity to discern what's hyperbole and what's not. Words are indeed powerful.

esther clark said...

People are being told what's wrong with the country is the government. The way to fix the problem is get rid of your congressperson either through elections and if that doesn't work "2nd amendment remedies."

Its what the tea partiers and republicans are telling people. Why are they surprised when people do what they've been telling them to.

Anne said...


Jo said...

Hallelujah and well said! Brava! I hope you don't mind if I share this on my facebook page!

Thank you for so eloquently putting into WORDS what so many of us are thinking!

Sheila said...

Well said, as usual. I do so love your writing. Thank you.

My mother made an off hand (and a bit mean) comment to me when I was 13. I am now 47, my mother has been dead for 25 years and what she said STILL resonates with me.

Words can hurt and words can heal but very rarely do they have no effect at all.

~jill said...

i love the way you string words together...nicely done!

Pauline said...

The folks spreading the vitriol know exactly what they're doing and are doing it on purpose. It's easier to say words have no real power than to acknowledge we're each responsible for our own utterings and actions. It's easier to shift blame - and how do we do all that? With our words. I think you should send this excellent piece to the Congress and the Senate, TV news stations and radio stations. Thanks for speaking up.

nowimagrownup said...

Very well said.

Anonymous said...

So true! I've been trying to use fewer these days.

I've lost too much to misunderstood words I've spoken or written.

I speak words of restoration and repair every chance I get.


SSP said...

what Sheila grandmother did the same thing, as did my own mother..they said things that 30+ years later, I STILL remember and ache. Diane, I would love to post this as a note on my FB (with credit back to you of course)....let me know if that is ok!

Diane said...

SSP, of course!

Thanks, everyone, for the kind comments. I know it's a hot topic right now and it's nice to know there are people out there who feel the same as I do!

Debbie(single;complicated) said...

powerful and beautiful!!!! Like the author...

sherri said...

I have no words to add...well, except for AMEN!

San Diego Momma said...

That post was powerful.

I recently wrote something from my heart that ended up hurting a lot of people I know.

I believed I had the right to post on my blog something that expressed my feelings.

But in the end, my words created a war, and I had to admit that I did not have the right to post even on my own blog, words that held such power without more carefully considering the consequences.

Live More Now said...

Amen times two! Words ARE powerful. Every thing we says matters, to someone, even if only ourselves. We should always always choose our words carefully .. because who are we after all, if not the things we do and the things we say?!

Love your blog. Still. :)

swenglishexpat said...

A post, very much food for thought. Wise words.

Lee said...

Happy Birthday!

CJ said...

What a great post. Your words are powerful.

I've been AWOL from blogging for a while,. So glad I checked this post from last month today.

Sheila said...

I miss your words and hope you are well.

Anonymous said...

Spot on, Diane. Gald to see I'm not the only one at a lose for words these days. 4 months is too long. Cheers, stu.

Greenfingers said...

Fantastic post Diane. I hope that you and the family are keeping well.

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