I originally posted this a few years ago on Live Journal, and thought that a slightly repurposed version might fit well here. Especially in today's divisive climate—one where, sadly, discourse has gone by the wayside (a pithy post for another day, methinks)—it's critical to consider what's beyond the words... both for good and for ill.
Words are important to me; I write for a living. Not fun stuff (at least, not usually), but nonetheless, I write. And since I was three, I have been an avid reader. Books were my first—and sometimes truest—friends. Words opened up worlds to me, providing solace, inspiration, and wisdom. Words are how we express, how we communicate, and (ideally) how we find common ground.
Words have power. They can uplift or destroy.
I understand on an emotional level that certain words are so charged, so volatile as to be rendered unacceptable.
Part of me wonders why we punish the word itself.
I mean, it's not the word, but what it signifies, right? Letters strung together to make sounds. What are letters but symbols? They have the meaning we assign to them, nothing more. Words in and of themselves are nothing. It's all about what value or meaning we assign to them.
Then there's that chasm between what we say and what we intend. Sometimes it's for comedic purposes, sometimes temper bests our intentions, and occasionally we get it just right, matching words and delivery to say something with weight and meaning that connects us to another person in a deeper fashion.
Delivery, then. Context. That's EVERYTHING. And shouldn't we take some responsibility, too instead of just blaming the word? Certainly, the speaker needs to be aware of the audience, be it one or one thousand. (I know beyond all doubt that if one of my beloved girls calls me "hooker" or "bitch," it's meant with deepest affection. Coming from someone I dislike? Oh yeah, that's an elbow-to-the-trachea moment.)
So clearly it's not the words.
Don't misunderstand. I love words. In many ways, they're my life. But really, isn't what they signify more important? The substance vs. the symbol? When I see heated debates or emotionally charged posts devolve into so much hatred and rhetoric—and let's not even talk about your average newscast—well, these sorts of musings brew in my brain.
Yes, we should choose our words carefully, but what if we learned to listen with more than our ears? Intent, context, and meaning should count for so much more. I'm sure Plato had something really clever to say about confusing the symbol with the actual thing... and I'm betting we'd benefit from heeding his words. Turns out, he knew a thing or two.
So let's try and spark some evolution, internets. Practice listening with other organs besides your ears. (I'm thinking the heart or brain would work best, but if you feel the urge to listen with your liver, well, far be it from me to stop you... though I already know all I'd hear is a belch, or possibly pleading/whimpering.)
OK, I got a little off track with that last bit (as I'm wont to do), but it's worth considering. If you agree, share this post. Add your comments.
I'll listen with my whole self.