Words. You’re reading them now, you speak them all day long, and without them, the world would come to a screeching halt.
Words themselves are inert; mere symbols cobbled together so we can communicate the things in our shared experience that are intangible. So much of what we perceive cannot be expressed, but when we feel a connection with someone we search our cranial database to show what we’re feeling and hope they understand.
The power of words is one of the greatest gifts bestowed on mankind. We use words to express affection and hatred, to wound and to soothe, to teach and to preach. Words are alive and as Dumbledore said: “our most inexhaustible source of magic.”
As a writer, I depend on my words to paint a picture, to make a point or to convey the feelings of lust, heartbreak, triumph or pain. It astounds me what the combination of sounds and inflections that we write and speak can do to inspire emotion in others and ourselves.
Words are very important when conveying your true feelings and two of the most important feelings are the polar opposites, Love and Hate.
The word Love is particularly fascinating because we use it in its lesser form nearly every day: “I love that song!” “I love sushi!” “I love ‘How To Get Away With Murder!’” But when it comes time to use it in one of its most powerful forms – the expression of true romantic love – most people are terrified.
We fear saying we love someone for many different reasons; the most potent is the fear it won’t be reciprocated. Nothing hurts worse than saying you love someone and having them say something like: “yeah, you’re alright, I guess.”
Sure, Han Solo is a badass and can get away with saying “I know” to Princess Leia’s declaration of love, but in everyday life here in this galaxy, we want to hear someone say: “I love you, too.”
The fear of not getting the proper response can lead two people to wait and wait and wait for the other person to say it, and in the meantime, no one has said it, and no one knows the other’s true feelings.
Then there is the fear that what you have to say will be perceived as forced or corny or a well-rehearsed line. I consider myself lucky that with my creative mind I can come up with the occasional romantic sentence but even then people have perceived it as sappy. Do I really see fireworks when I kiss my boyfriend? Not literally, of course, but the mental imagery it conjures up helps me describe how he makes me feel.
Why do people worry that what they say will be considered poetic or sensitive or beautiful? Isn’t that what you want to hear from someone that loves you? It doesn’t have to be Yeats, for God’s sake, but merely saying: “when I have you in my arms I feel happier than I’ve ever felt before” is simple and sweet and quite frankly, pretty easy to say.
On the flipside, saying you hate something or someone is as easy as pie. How many times when you were a sullen, hormone-addled teenager did you tell your parents you hated them? You didn’t, really, but it sure felt like it – especially the time you were grounded for two weeks.
We hate so many things every day, too. We hate the traffic and the weather and the endless road construction. We hate the reality stars that stain our airwaves and the politicians that hate us back. We hate the people who lack social graces and the ability to do their jobs properly and all the little things that annoy us on a daily basis that probably don’t deserve the word hate attached to them, but we toss it off like it’s nothing. Saying “I hate people” doesn’t mean you want to live in a world where there are no other people, it just means that you’ve spent the day surrounded by dumbasses. Ugh, I hate that.
Words are the main ingredient in Hate’s younger sibling, Rumor. Rumors are poisonous vines that can choke the life out of something in what seems like mere moments. Paired with its twin sister, Gossip, they can destroy businesses, reputations, and even lives with their venom.
Their root is buried in animosity and jealousy and since they are usually based on a bare filament of truth, debunking them is usually not very difficult. But the problem is, by the time they are proven false, the damage is done. Everyone loves to hear a good rumor or a juicy piece of gossip and when they do, what better way to enjoy it than by ignoring the actual truth and watching someone else react to the news? So they spread like a virus, infecting everyone they touch.
Why do we take pleasure in the effects of rumor and gossip? Is it because we like to see people fall that we secretly envy? Or is it merely because we are happy that it’s not us?
Don’t you worry, my friend – sooner or later, it will be you. And when that day comes just remember what Rumors and Gossip really are. Words.
When we were kids we were taught that sticks and stones may break our bones but words can never hurt us. Now that I’m a grown-up I prefer the credo of David Mamet who said: “it’s only words – unless they’re true.”
Even though we say so many things throughout the day to communicate with our fellow man, whether it’s in affection or anger, sometimes words just don’t come. And sometimes, when words are spoken aloud it hinders the function of emotion.
When the father of a friend of mine passed away and I stood in line waiting to pay my respects, I could hear people saying the same thing over and over: how sorry they were, that he was a great person, that it was a tragic loss and other sentiments in this same vein.
These words were genuine and heartfelt and I don’t deny their honesty, but their repetition seemed to slowly erode their meaning.
When I approached my friend to say something, I was at a loss. I admitted I didn’t know what to say because saying how sorry I was didn’t seem to be enough to encapsulate the sorrow I felt for him losing his father. Some writer I am, huh? It just shows that knowing what to say and when to say it is as important as knowing when not to say anything at all.
The content of the words in our everyday lives becomes so repetitive that sometimes we forget we’re even saying them. It reminds me of how you can say a word over and over until it loses it’s meaning and becomes pointless alien noise.
Think of things you say every day like: “how are you?” or “have a nice day!” or “thank you for calling the Daily Planet, how may I direct your call?” Over and over we say these things that lose their meaning as anything even slightly important.
Last month I talked about the phrase “how are you doing?” and how we always respond the same way. Do we really even care about how a stranger is doing when we ask that question?
The automatic response: “fine, thanks” also falls into the rote statement category. Even when we’re not fine we say we are fine. It’s programmed into us like robot syntax.
Maybe it’s time we changed what we say every day to make it not only more interesting to all parties involved but to make us think and listen to our dialogue as opposed to just repeating the same things over and over.
The next time someone asks you how you are, answer honestly and in detail. You’ll be surprised at the reaction you will get.
Words surround us and fill our lives with news both good and bad. They spill out from books and movies to transport us away from our lives. Talking heads on television use words to debate the issues around the globe – some of which center on that keen-edged word Hate that is the basis of war and murder.
Words are the keys to our heart and the weapons that we use to fight ignorance and stand up to prejudice. There are the words that we use to tell our loved ones what they mean to us and to tell the world who we are and what we stand for.
Words hold power, and like Uncle Ben told Peter Parker: “With great power comes great responsibility.” When spoken with true honesty and genuine emotion they are more valuable than any measure of wealth.
When you give your word to someone, it shows that you are honorable and trustworthy. Your words are both the symbol of your present self and the legacy of your future.
There is a saying that raises an interesting question – if someone paid you ten cents for every kind word and collected five cents for every unkind word, would you be rich or poor? Think about that for a moment and then tell me: What do you have to say?
Article republished with permission from The Gay Word.