First posted Friday, January 16, 2015
Words. We use them every day. We abuse them every day. They evolve, their meanings change, they can be misunderstood, cause happiness, joy, pain and suffering. They can stir emotions, positive and negative. They can be used to create pictures in the mind of the reader or listener, and they are used to report, to tell stories, to inform and distort.
When we string lots of them together we call it language. Dependent of course on where in the world you are, that language will be different, and the words themselves sometimes cannot be translated completely from one language to another. Confusing as this may be, most of the time we get to understand the majority of what is being expressed. When we don’t and misunderstandings occur, whether in our native language, or in translation, things can and do go wrong. It may be relatively minor and easy to resolve or it may lead to conflict, war, destruction and take many years of ongoing exchanges of words to repair, if such a thing is ever achieved.
Over the last couple of weeks a number of things have occurred which in turn have made me think a little about words, how I use them, how those around me use them, and the impact they can have. Two of my three children come home daily with a list of spellings to learn, and reading books, and their grasp of these words, their pronunciation, their meaning and the inflection they apply to them never ceases to amaze me. My youngest son is quite proficient in his speech with a vocabulary that at times can seem broader than his years, and he is now learning how to write letters – I somehow don’t think it will be long before he too is learning to read and expand his knowledge further. At times all of them, and their friends use words as jibes, or to provoke a response of some kind, and I’ve seen how they’ve also been on the receiving end of such things and how that makes them feel. It is interesting to watch them learn from these experiences.
The newspapers, news websites, news bulletins have been full of words, some calling for peace, others rousing strong emotions and beliefs, some pleading for help, others quite simply full of despair and anguish. These all have an effect on others, an impact, and may in turn prompt more words in response, or even actions. Some of this flows out through other platforms, be it social media, letters, journals, blogs like this one and others.
Sometimes words aren’t needed. The saying ‘actions speak louder than words’ carries some truth in it. Sometimes it is possible to communicate far more clearly and directly without words, and again this can be in a positive or negative way. Every so often I see a post or picture on a social media site saying something along the lines of ‘be kind, it is always possible to be kind’ or repeating something I’m sure my parents said to me many times, and I have said to my own children ‘If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all’.
In a world so full of words, written, spoken, sung, from time to time, it can be worth taking a momentary pause and reflecting on those words, why they are chosen, why they are used, what message they are being used to convey. Sometimes the message may not be an easy one to deliver, and so choosing the words used carefully can make a big difference. On the opposite end of that, it may that the message is a very special one, or significant in some way, and again choosing the right words will make a big difference to the impact it can have.
This year so far, I’ve been fortunate to learn some new words – I’ve had to go and look them up and find out what they mean, and in doing so broadened my own understanding, deepened my knowledge and enjoyed doing so. I think perhaps I will try to continue this and encourage the same for my children. Used well, with understanding, with creativity, and with care, words allow us to colour our world, and add depth to what we see and feel. Used carelessly they can cause damage and hurt, whether deliberate or unintentional.
Words are not just sounds, letters joined together to make a noise. They are a means by which to connect, to share, to learn, to enjoy, and so much more. Choose them wisely, your choice will reflect on you.