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Monday, February 13, 2017


Do you remember “sticks and stones might break my bones but names will never hurt me?”

Is that still a thing?  Or did it go the way of “retard”* and “that’s so gay!”* (we can only hope)?
I would like to take this opportunity to speak out on the behalf of sticks and stones everywhere:  that is to say, words are much worse.  Much, much worse.  Like, see above (*) worse.  Like “you were seriously concerned about her e-mails” worse.

The older I get (and the more I put my own words out there as a writer), the more I realize that the pen is ACTUALLY mightier than the sword.  Our words are our weapons, and social media has made it all too convenient to levy them against people we don’t even know.  Words are the epitome of the cliché—they can be your BEST friend or your WORST enemy.
As your unofficial best friend, I would like to encourage you to use your words wisely.

It feels like my country has plunged into a war of words that shows no signs of abating; we have a “so-called” leader who uses words (the BEST words) so indiscriminately it is entirely clear that he has no idea what he’s talking about most of the time.  The worst part of it is, the person who is supposed to be the voice of our nation is instead the voice of division, fear, pettiness, ego and tyranny.  The worst part is, the man who should be our voice of reason is instead the voice of destructive deceit.
This puts us all into a uniquely awkward position:  how to disavow this man without using words destructively ourselves?

It is interesting to note as you go through your day how powerfully the words you speak and hear impact you.  How quickly can a “bad” day be turned around by kind and uplifting words from a friend or stranger?  How wonderful do you feel when you pay someone a compliment and they light up?  How encouraging is it when you hear something you needed to hear at the exact right moment, sometimes even just as lyric on the radio?
It is amazing how careless we are with our words, considering how they can literally make or break any experience or relationship.  When cruel or spiteful words are directed at us, they can take our breath away more than even a physical punch to the stomach; but we recover from hurt muscles so much more quickly than hurt feelings.  The broken bones from sticks and stones will inevitably mend; the devastation viciousness levies on our hearts and psyches can become an eternal feature of our consciousness.

Yet it is so tempting to meet meanness with meanness, intolerance with contempt!  Language is our medium and we fling it about all day long with so little care.  Even inside our own heads, what are the words we play for ourselves on that endless loop?
“The Power of Positive Thinking” gets brushed off as New Age nonsense in an unusual show of solidarity between intellectuals and the undereducated alike; yet it is the thoughts we are thinking that have the greatest impact on our lives of all.  Not just the self-critical thoughts, either.  It is crucial during this challenging time to remember that as important as it is to stand up for our morals and beliefs, it is equally important not to spend our days and nights stewing about injustice, either.

In the Harry Potter series, the arch villain Voldemort is more often referred to as He-who- must-not-be-named because of the belief that speaking the word increases its power.  Many people have adopted this approach regarding our current government leader because to refer to the man by his job title seems to legitimize his destructive words and behaviors.  I think this is a much more effective strategy than name-calling and insult hurling (although I will admit to being the first person to laugh at a particularly clever insult under these trying circumstances) because it takes away his power.
How does it take away his power if he still has the job, you ask?  Here’s how:  if you are anything like me, trying to put the word “President” in front of that name not only feels wrong, it actually causes an anxiety response.  Calling him “45” or He-who-must-not-be-named does not.  Anxiety can have a crippling effect on our cognitive ability (here, I googled so you don’t have to).   So I have taken away his power to have a crippling effect on my cognitive ability.  That’s a good thing, right?

But this is true of all the different kinds of thoughts we think.  When we focus our attention on words (President) and things that make us anxious, we are actually debilitating ourselves.  Now, if you are a person who suffers from an actual anxiety disorder, there is help available to cope with that.  But if you are like me and are simply using your own words and thoughts against yourself, now would be a particularly good time to cut that sh*t out.
In addition to all the aforementioned anxiety provoking stimuli, I have a lot of major stressors happening in my personal life all at once right now.  I have to be vigilant with my words and thoughts in order not to get swept away into overwhelm.  This is an every minute of every day endeavor, and some days I am more successful than others.

On a recent day when I was trying very hard but being not-so-successful, I made a run to the grocery store.  As I was mentally trying to “talk myself away from the ledge”, I parked my car and when I got out right there was a truck with a quote from the Philippians stenciled on the back:  “Be anxious for nothing”.  And of course I went from fretting to laughing in a heartbeat.  Those were the exact words I needed to see at just the exact right moment, and I wish I had left a note on that vehicle telling the people who owned it as much.
Another great truth put forth in the Book of Matthew is this:  “By thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.”  Our words and thoughts are the most potent means available to us to be effective and impactful, not only in our own lives but in the lives of others.  In every exchange we have we are choosing to serve fear or faith, oppression and exclusion or openness and oneness. 

Sticks and stones might break your bones (but usually not, bones are pretty sturdy things) but now more than ever we see words have nuclear capability.  To the cliché “is it kind, true or necessary” I would add “helpful” and “productive” to the litmus test for the words we are using.  By first changing our words and thoughts, we are well on the way to changing the world.