Much has been made over the past week over the “rancorous rhetoric” that permeates our current political conversation. In the wake of the horrific shooting incident that took place last week, some have drawn lines in an attempt to either find answers and/or lay blame. Unless you are God and therefore omniscient and omnipresent, you don’t and can’t know what caused that man to open fire on a group of innocent people. We can read his posts, talk to his friends and family, and get the professional and studied views of the psychological community, but at the end of the day we simply don’t know. However, this we can know–what we say and how we say it can and does have a tremendous ripple effect. Sometimes it is intentional and sometimes it is not, but words can help and heal or they can hurt and harm.
One thing that people who deal with words on a “professional” level (teachers, actors, writers, journalists, etc.) understand a bit more is that words have subtext. How many times have you heard someone say something only to respond or think, “What did you mean by that?” Even “nonprofessionals” get that on a visceral level. And children get that much more than we care to believe! There is almost always another level of meaning and understanding where words are involved. You know–connotative versus denotative meaning. Words can reveal as much as they (try to) conceal. Mere words have stirred nations, galvanized movements, and changed the course of history.
While I am not going to weigh in on what this person or that person said or whether it contributed to this tragedy, I will offer this:
Sticks and stones can break your bones…and words can and will hurt you. Let’s not act like it won’t.
Words Mean Things