“The thought manifests as the word; The word manifests as the deed; The deed develops into habit; And habit hardens into character. So watch the thought and its ways with care, And let it spring from love. Born out of concern for all beings.”
– Buddha, was the central figure of Buddhism.
Words have been on my mind a great deal since I began writing my novel and this blog. That’s not true, I’ve always been fascinated with words. I’m told I spoke clearly before I could walk. None of that baby talk for me. When I was in grade school, my teacher praised me to the class for saying the word “multiplication” clearly, enunciating all the parts of the word. The other kids looked at me with perplexed expressions on their faces as if to say, “What difference does it make”?
My favorite subject in school was English where I learned to love great literature. In college my majors were Religious Studies and Theatre and Speech and my Masters degrees are in Theater Arts and Education. So, as you can see, words and the ideas behind them matter to me.
That’s why I’m concerned. There seems to be a growing trend of speaking before thinking about the consequences of what we’re saying. Is it just me, or are we lashing out at one another more than we used to do? We’re making a habit of using personal invective against one another without realizing that words are made up of energy. When spoken they are sound vibrations that we’re sending out into the world. When read silently, they stir or damage our soul.
Maybe you don’t know what I’m getting at. Okay, let me demonstrate. In the “Declaration of Independence” the line we revere the most is this: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness…” As Americans, aren’t we proud of that document? Would we be as proud if Thomas Jefferson hadn’t been such a good writer? What if it said: “This is what we believe to be the truth, that everyone’s created equal, with rights that can’t be denied. We state that some of those rights are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” It doesn’t have the same ring does it? Here’s another example of a document we hold dear, “The Gettysburg Address” by Abraham Lincoln. “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” What if Lincoln had started his address with, “One hundred and seven years ago our nation was created.” See what I mean?
My point is that words have power. We continue to study the works of Shakespeare because of the way he stated his ideas through characters in interesting, sometimes desperate situations. It’s the same with all great literature, but our popular entertainment, with a few exceptions, is made up primarily of reality shows where the “real” people are bickering, tearing each other down with their brutal honesty, or using profanity that has to be bleeped out. What kind of negative energy are we saturating the air waves with and how does that affect us? I’m not saying that a good swear word should never be used. Sometimes that’s the best way to express our feelings. What I object to is yelling them in someone else’s face.
In a fantastic book I read last year, Every Word Has Power, Yvonne Oswald writes about the power the words we think and speak have on our lives. If we’ve got the habit of denigrating ourselves, it’s nearly impossible to be successful out in the world. For that reason she helps the reader notice their self-talk. Beginning to change ourselves is the way to change our outer world. For that reason, I don’t watch all those negative reality shows, or the news. However, because I’m sensitive, I feel overwhelmed by the negativity of our dialogue with each other. I can feel it in the ethers and I feel sad that we’ve lost much of our civility.
Now that I’ve written about the negative aspects of our media, I do want to point out that I see glimmers of hope. I think the big wigs at the networks underestimate those of us who are viewers. The popularity of Downton Abbey, on PBS no less, took everybody by surprise. It’s a literate television show. Oh, there are characters who can deliver a cutting remark with flair. But, we get to see them suffer the consequences of their actions. They don’t get away with being nasty for long. Another glimmer of hope is the fact that OWN is doing better than ever, and while I don’t watch all the shows on that network, the programming is heavy on personal growth and healing. I could go on, but you get the idea.
I know this one blog post, which will reach maybe 50 people, isn’t going to change the way we think about each other, or talk to each other over night. My goal is to be one voice added to many others, saying, we need to pay attention to how we treat ourselves and others. We need to think, and not just drift along. We need to wake up and be conscious of our actions. If we’re compassionate with ourselves, it’s easier to show compassion for others.
7 thoughts on “Word Power”
Hey Lucinda, Great topic. Across the top of the Submissions page at StoneThread Publishing I quoted author Agnes Repplier. I think this suits as a warning to writers who rush into publication: “Every misused word avenges itself forever upon a writer’s reputation.” Isn’t that wonderful? Back where I’m from, she might have said “Ya’ll hush! Y’never know what folks are gonna remember that you done said!” 🙂
Yes, that is a great quote. I’ve come to the conclusion that I have to take my time with this writing thing and do the very best work I can.
Hi, Lucinda. A couple thoughts for you. First, why so much conflict and negativity in the press? Perhaps its because, as in our novels, conflict drives the story. In the press, conflict sells. Does it reflect a wider reality? It doesn’t have to, although unfortunately it can create a perception that becomes reality.
Second, why so much anger and negativity? I’ll suggest three emotions: frustration, disappointment, and feeling helpless. We’re frustrated and disappointed that things aren’t working out the way we thought they did in the past or should in the present and future. The times, they are (always) a-changin’, and change is never comfortable. This applies at every level, from our personal lives to the role of the United States in the world. The helplessness comes from feeling we can’t do anything to influence, much less control, the changes we see around us. The perception, reinforced by press reporting, is that only big, powerful change matters, and most of us feel we lack the power to create such change.
But there’s no reason why we can’t do what we can at whatever level we can reach and influence, even if that’s just among a few friends or associates or within our own neighborhood or town. Small efforts can grow to have surprisingly large impacts, but the important point is that they start small. To its credit, at least once a week, NBC Nightly News does a segment called “Making a Difference,” in which they spotlight some individual or group that’s doing something important in their community. Some of those things have grown to have wider impacts, some have not. But the person who started each one felt they had enough power to do a little.
We can each help overcome the negativity we see around us by doing a little that’s positive. I’m being no PollyAnna here (wrong gender, if nothing else *grin*). Do something good for or with those around you, and watch the negativity slide away.
You’re right on Ross.
Beautifully said Lucinda.
Thanks Mary. I thought I replied last week. Apparently not.