I’ve quoted this line here before:
Words - so innocent and powerless as they are, as standing in a dictionary, how potent for good and evil they become in the hands of one who knows how to combine them. ~Nathaniel Hawthorne
Recently I’ve been reminded again the potential powerful of our words. Through them, people start wars, bring about peace, heal broken hearts, and also cause them. Unlike physical wounds that can be stitched up and mended, wounds inflicted by words are often left untreated and sore, festering, until relationships between people break apart, unmendable.
On a panel at a conference, Sandra Taylor once said, “Sharp words, if left lying around, can cut even years after they’ve been [said or] written.” At the time, the panel was discussing blogs, but I think this also applies to email and social networking status. Obviously her words had impact on me, because that phrase has stuck in my head ever since.
I’m generally quiet if you meet me in person. I don’t speak up as often as I probably should in classes or social gatherings, because it takes an extra boost of courage for me. But when it comes to blogs or emails, I’m much more confident. More bold. I’ve learned how to string my words together for impact, and am therefore able to voice thoughts I wasn’t able to share only days or hours before, be they excited and happy, or thoughtful, or angry. (Though, truthfully, I try very hard to not voice too many angry words for the reasons mentioned above.)
Recently I’ve been reminded that I’m not the only person for whom this is true.
Writers know how to use words. Or, if we don’t know, we spend lots and lots of time learning. These lessons are meant for good—to share our stories and our knowledge with the rest of the world. But there is a flip side. Words can be used to hurt as well. To wound.
Isn’t it interesting how much bolder we become, how much more free with our words when sending emails or texts, blogs, or even ink-and-paper letters, as opposed to words we would actually share with a person to whom we are standing face-to-face?
I wrote letters (yeah, snail mail) to long distance friends as a child, and then as a teen, in which I would often share things I wouldn’t otherwise have said. As an adult, it’s easier than ever to click send (or publish, or share) in moments of strong emotion or misunderstanding. We can tell the world what we’re feeling or thinking in one click, before we’ve truly thought about the consequences or repercussions.
All I can say to that is amen. Far more than what we’ve done or said, in the end, we will be remembered for our words. What be yours?
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