The last couple of weeks in American politics have been particularly rife with...let's call it excitement. We've seen words used to harm and cause outrage, used to discuss vile behavior as though it were common and nothing to be ashamed of, and used to belittle and demean.
We've also seen words used to inspire hope and change, used to reassure and comfort, a nd used to fight back against those who would use words for ill. It's been an object lesson in how flexible language can be, and how important.
A little background: I graduated from high school in 1999. (Yes, I know - by Tumblr standards, I'm ancient.) It means that my formative years were filled with people telling me that words didn't matter - if I was being teased, it was because I "reacted so well" and I needed to ignore them. If people made fun of me, maybe I shouldn't raise my hand so much in class. (On the flip side, asking a teacher to stop announcing my grades to the class, because it made me a target, meant that I had low self-esteem.) If I got upset ("reacted") when people called me names or told each other how awful I was, then I was just feeding them, and it was on me to stop reacting, and they would stop saying things. It shouldn't have bothered me anyway, since they were just words. Sticks and stones, and all that.
I was fortunate enough to never have a serious physical injury in my childhood - no broken bones, no lasting scars from serious accidents on the playground, nothing like that. Because of that, I can't say for certain that the wounds from sticks and stones scar worse than those of words, but I know that I still deal with the scars of those words to this day. They've faded, over time, in large part because I found family and friends that wouldn't re-open the wounds. They didn't tell me I was being oversensitive if something upset me - they helped me find a way to move through the problem, not pretend it didn't exist. And they did this primarily through their words.
I know that not many people read what I write here, and that's fine. I'm just trying to put some more words into the world that may do some good, whether they be words of writerly inspiration, words of encouragement (both in writing and otherwise), or words that make people laugh (particularly at me). Words are the best light I have for the darkness, and I'm trying my best to make it shine so others can find their lights. The last thing I would want is to have my words cause someone else's light to dim, even for a moment.
Words matter. What you say, what you write, what you communicate to the world - it all matters. Your words can change people's minds, change people's lives, even if just for a second. They can be a powerful tool, or a dangerous weapon. We treat words like they're nothing, but we need to remember to be careful. Being careless with our words can cause a lot of pain, for ourselves and for those who hear or read what we say.
A tool or a weapon. You choose.