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I would like to present you with two attention grabbing headlines.
Truck Hits Protesters.
Man intentionally kills and maims First Amendment supporters.
The second headline strikes a much different chord. Both headings relay the same event, however, they each capture different reactions and emotions within us. Reexamine that first headline. A truck doesn’t steer or accelerate itself (Tesla vehicles excluded here). There was a human being powering the automobile, making a conscious choice to harm others.
Victim killed when gun goes off.
Another infuriating misuse of the English language. Guns don’t simply “go off.” A human interacts with or mishandles it, and it triggers a bullet to emerge, as designed.
Our choice of wording desensitizes us to the real facts of the event.
A discouraging trend is steadily rising among the general population. We are collectively becoming lax, and even complacent, in our most basic form of communication—the words we use. People aren’t bothering to use full sentences anymore. We are speaking in abbreviations, slang, and text speak. I have even witnessed some reverting to grunts.
Our addiction to social media and texting is eliminating our motivation to fully articulate our thoughts and intentions. Someone walked up to me today and simply stated a random name, out of the blue. There was no full sentence, no context, just a first and last name. I compelled her to explain further.
Is that your name? Is that who you’re looking for? Do you think that’s my name? What are you trying to achieve? She was telling me her name and asking if her order had arrived. But the context of the conversation was only expressed inside her head, and not yet vocalized to me. The combination of technology addiction and limited human interaction during quarantine has stunted our communication skills.
The words you choose do matter.
They carry more weight than we attribute to them. Writers tend to be choosier than most with their word choices (I paused before landing on “choosier”). I know my habit of silently correcting others’ grammar isn’t shared by all. It’s probably frowned upon. But we each need to mindfully recognize the power we wield with our words.
Football superstar Christiano Ronaldo uttered just four words, “Water, not Coca-Cola” during a press conference, and Coca-Cola lost $4 billion in market value within 30 minutes.
Our words are powerful.
My Aunt took secretarial vocational training when she was young. During her first interview for a secretary position, she accidentally let a small profanity slip out. She walked out, gave up any hope of becoming a secretary, and pivoted to nursing, without even looking back. One tiny word altered her entire trajectory and impacted the lives of hundreds of patients she treated over a 30-plus year career.
Ludwig Wittgenstein famously stated, “If a lion could speak, we could not understand him.” Wittgenstein was demonstrating that it would be impossible to comprehend the consciousness of another species. Lions don’t have a word for things like racism or privilege. They have words for what they experience and value. What do we know of their world?
With other humans, however, we do have a common humanity. We view everything through our lens of experience and opinion. We then attempt to view the existence of others by making their lives resemble our own. We view them through ourselves. We have to find the commonality between us to share our existences.
Unlike the lion, we have all the words at our disposal. Words are our main form of communication as a species. They function as a principal carrier of meaning. Misuse, and even mispronunciation, will lead to confusion and blurred interpretations.
Again, our words are so powerful.
We need to use that power for good, for truth, and factual knowledge. We need to be mindful of our messages, not just our intentions. We are all filtering information through our unique experiences and opinions, reaching our conclusions and further opinions. We need to be careful we don’t complicate the process with a muddled message or corruption of our spoken language.
Be truthful. Be accurate. Speak with loving compassion, from a mindful heart.