Monday, January 10, 2011

Words Are All I Have

"You think that I don't even mean
A single word I say
It's only words, and words are all
I have to take your heart away."
The Bee Gees

My mother always told me to think before I speak. She ingrained in me the importance of the words I chose, whether speaking a sentence or writing one down. In the middle of one raging fight when I was a teenager she admonished me that my words had daggers on them. I don't remember what I said, only that I had caused tears to well in her eyes. I had hurt her simply by whatever it was I said. It was the first time I really understood the power of words. They could "take your heart away" in the best of ways or the worst of ways.

In my years selling advertising  I saw words  used to make money. Whether it was the closing line of a sales pitch or a commercial designed to entice you to buy something the careful selection of words, the tone and order in which they were delivered could make you salivate or turn your stomach. A promotional teaser  was designed to get you to tune in and buy something, if only a few moments of your time.

As a coach, the words I use are intended to make you think, to assess where you are and where you are going.  My choice of words is designed to get you to the answers you are looking for but if not careful, I can just as easily choose words to sway you in the direction I think you should go.

And as a writer I am consumed with words. I choose them carefully determining their effect. Words properly strung together to form a sentence can create a scene or a feeling or an understanding that I want to convey to you. They create a visual in your mind. They hold power. They can influence. They can make you think, for better or worse.

The reasons for the tragedy of the shooting of Congresswoman Gifford and the other victims on  Saturday in Tuscon are yet to be fully revealed. But there is no question in my mind that the careless use of rhetoric and the stringing of words designed to incite that has become so commonplace and so accepted fell upon ears that took them for their literal meaning. Worse yet, upon hands that took action.

We are a society based on communication and free speech, one in which which conversation takes place 24/7, on line, off line, in text and in print. Attempts to be heard above the fray for reasons of desired celebrity and/or money have caused too many to use words without thought of the consequences they might produce. They are "only words" but "words are all we have" and how we use them requires civility, responsibility, integrity and a basic understanding of right and wrong.

Do you think before you speak?
Do you think before you put something in writing?
Do you think the political vitriol had an impact on Saturday's tragedy?


Elly Faden said...

Let's take this one step further. I subscribe to newsfeeds that show up on the left side of my screen. This morning, the first business day after the Giffords shooting, here is a Reuter's headline:

"Playboy, like Hef's sex life, better off private."

Now, as a mature woman with grown children, I view Hef as a sexist person who basically doesn't do much harm except demean women (of course, in MY perfect world, demeaning women would not be tolerated). But, since I live in the real world, I have to accept the fact that Hef has been a part of my life for 56 years.

But, does that mean that I have to have a Reuter's headline about him in my gadgets? Yes, they're saying that his stuff should be private, but they're saying that publicly!

What if I were not an old lady, but an impressionable and mentally ill young man? I might research Hef and then begin to view women the same way he views them. Then, I might read Sarah Palin's remarks about shooting politicians. Then, my psyche might say it's OK. And on and on.

Let's peg these major news agencies and have them report on real news. For example, I would rather read about the lives and times of the heroes who helped Giffords and others this weekend than Hugh Heffner!

Unknown said...

Point well taken. The media has a role in this as well. They take the sound bites and contribute to them going viral.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, sports talk and team competitions is probably influencing more potential mass murdering young men than political verbiage. Racist groups on the net, dehumanization of women through internet porn, etc. Palin and others may shock you, but they are nothing in the rhetoric of this new internet age. Sorry to break that to you. The facts will show that this young lunatic was not influenced by Palin, tea party or traditional political discourse one iota. You are living in the past.

Unknown said...

Thank you for your input.

The motives behind what this young man did and who or what influenced him are still being determined.

As far as the rhetoric of this new age, we all have a part in what it looks like and sounds like. If demonstrating civility and responsibility and putting thought behind what I say, to who, how I say it and where I say means I am "living in the past" then call me old fashioned, but that is how I will continue to live.