The Weight of Words

I am currently in a state of “ZOMFSM so busy!!1!one!!exclamationpoint!!!” so don’t have much time for a decent update today, nor did I just want to post pictures of me fencing or the fabric I dyed for tights or pictures of cats or anything. Fortunately, Lisa happened to have some ideas she wanted to get out, so I present: another guest post from Lisa. When I have some time, I had some ideas jumping off of this, and I’ll post those…elsewhen.

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The Weight of Words – Lisa Tyler

Wind whispering through the forest is sound. Words are so much more. Language is one of the things that make us human. Oftentimes, those uttering them neither realize, nor care, they carry meaning and weight. There is a reason that the great orators and authors throughout history have left lasting impression. Whether their message was one of positivity or negativity, the words they left behind are not forgotten.

Language evolves as our culture evolves, and often, this as well, is ignored or forgotten. There is language we no longer use do to its history. New words fall into this category all the time. It may be a childhood platitude that “sticks and stones may break [our] bones, but words will never hurt [us],” but that is far from the truth. Words can be just as damaging, if not in some cases more so.

They, when used properly and responsibly, can also heal, protect, and push the boundaries of equality for all mankind. If used to bolster other human beings and not to demean them, words can forge bonds between people. Too often, they are used instead to sever those bonds.

Today, a Grecian athlete was expelled from the Olympic team for using her twitter account to flippantly make a blatantly racist statement. Words such as the ones she used were both ignorant and mean. I applaud the Hellenic Olympic Committee for their decision to hold her accountable and for using their words to reinforce the Olympic principles. They stood up and said that hateful speech is not ok and there are consequences for saying hurtful, insensitive things.

Consequences vary, naturally, on who is saying things, where they are saying them, and to whom, but they exist nonetheless. The athlete mention previously may lose sponsorship, and was removed from the games, which she undoubtedly spent years of training to qualify for. Celebrities may lose endorsements or advertisers for their platforms or maybe even be removed from their platforms altogether. Businesses may be boycotted.

People decry this as reactionary, but once something is said, it cannot be unsaid, and the words have meaning, especially to those being injured by them. Giving someone a message that they are worth less than you (or worthless entirely) and therefore not important enough to care about how they are affected by your words sits like a stone in the heart of your victim(s). It doesn’t matter if it is a single person, or a whole class of people you malign, those words sink in to bring them down, just as a pocket full of rocks would sink them in a river.

Reactions are important. Telling someone they can’t get away with being an arrogant bigot is the only way we, as non-bigots, can change the tide. Consequences exist to teach lessons. Good consequences reinforce good behaviors. Negative consequences stop them, and hopefully cause the person experiencing them to think about why they occurred and change the way they approach the world in the future.

My own father is someone I constantly try to urge in the way of progress, as resistant as he is. I’ve called him out on numerous occasions for his bigoted speech/ worldview. He’s the guy who will tell you he’s not racist because he has had black friends. Which, in and of itself is a racist remark, and all the while he had to stop saying the “n-word” when referring to black people because the kids around him (not myself or my brother, who primary grew up in our mother’s household, where that was NEVER uttered) picked up on it and were using it themselves. The sad part is that though he knows it’s wrong, he hasn’t stopped saying it for the right reasons. He hasn’t stopped saying it because it maligns and entire ethnic group of people. He stopped using it to stop from drawing attention to his blatant racism. He replaced it with another word to euphemize his distaste, one that if children said it, would be innocuous. You can accuse someone of being Canadian all day long without arousing the ire of the community at large. Though, connoting that being Canadian is negative is another problem entirely, as the Canadians have done nothing to be insulted either.

Someone isn’t “not racist” because they’ve had a black friend. They’re not racist because they have friends of every color and ethnicity and color/ethnicity never enters the picture. Someone isn’t “not anti-gay” because they’ve once known a gay person and that was ok. They’re not anti-gay because they don’t care if the people they surround themselves with are LGBTQ or not. Someone isn’t “not bigoted” because there is a small exception to their bigotry. Someone is not bigoted when classifiers don’t matter, when you accept people no matter what they are, and start caring about only WHO they are.

You cannot proactively address someone else’s words unless you are writing the words being said by another. You can only react to what has already been uttered or written. The only words you can address proactively are your own. You can use your own words to counter the negativity of others. You can use them to point out that words used to press negative, hateful, discriminatory, bigoted agendas of others are not acceptable. You can use them to teach tolerance, acceptance, and equality. You can use them to bolster the soul of another instead of bringing it down. In the age of social media, and the availability of infinite digital platforms, you can speak up and topple the towers of powerful bigotry, regardless of who you are.

We need to remember that if all words carry weight, the positive can carry just as much weight as the negative. A pound of gold weighs the same as a pound of lead, but gold can be used to buy materials to build things, where lead is used as a weight to hold them down. Negative words are carelessly tossed around, and we can direct the weight of our own to counter where they fall. We can create armor to deflect them.

I spend a lot of time thinking about the words of others. I find myself often coming up with rebuttals that are never heard, or heard by few. I think about the missed opportunities to say things.

I think about how the words of others impact people outside of myself. I’m lucky that I am able to enjoy vast benefits by being a Caucasian in a heterosexual relationship in this country. Things are not so simple when I factor in the struggles I have, but I still know that I am more fortunate than many. If I had, for instance, fallen in love with a woman (which would be entirely possible), I would not have had the ability to marry the person I love. If I had been born a different race, I would have had more hurdles in education and opportunities than the ones I had even growing up in the lower-middle class in this country. There are people who fight much harder battles than the ones I have fought. There are many people fighting harder battles than I could ever IMAGINE fighting. These are often the people we find are the victims of the negative messages being delivered. I attempt, when possible, to counter those messages.

This week, I was in class, and the topic of educational budgets came up. In my county, one of the things cut was the bussing for public school magnet programs. A man in class with me, speaking from a position of great privilege in our country, a middle-aged, heterosexual, Christian, conservative, white male, suggested that if he and his wife were able to balance their needs for transportation for their children, all parents should be able to do so, and ones that didn’t were lazy and needed to “step up and be parents.”

As a parent myself and knowing that others have vastly fewer resources, I was incensed. I congratulated him and asked if he wanted a cookie, which may have been my temper coming out, but the point got across. Not everyone has access to those resources. People cannot be held accountable for not using things they do not have access to. People can and should be held accountable for using what they do have access to, in this case words, but also their other resources, such as money, to keep others from having access to opportunities and resources.

If language is one of the cornerstones to humanity, our ability to reason and communicate that thought, we should be using it for the betterment of humanity.

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