Don’t Trust the Words

I am a writer, and so I don’t trust words. Because I use them, because I know how to use them, I don’t trust them. They are never the truth of the moment. They can’t be. They aren’t of the moment. They’re of the moment after. They are, at best, “emotion recollected in tranquility.” They are, at worst, powerful manipulative tools.

When I am feeling the most, I trust words the least. Mine or anyone else’s.

I feel something, and then I attach words to that feeling, and I make those words into a story that explains that feeling and justifies my reaction to it.

And I believe that you do the same thing.

When what we feel is fear, the words we use to make sense of that fear are almost always words of hatred. And those words of hatred support us in believing in things and behaving in ways that would devastate the innocent hearts of the fearless children we used to be.

I look around and I see words behind every pain that is convulsing this country.

Words are the labels we attach to people that make it okay for us to discriminate against them.

Words make up the stories that we tell about people that make it okay for us to kill them.

Words rationalize war. Words are what legislation is made of.

Someone puts some words in a certain order and suddenly your rights are taken away.

Words tell us who matters and who doesn’t. Allow us to dismiss or destroy the things and people that make us uncomfortable. Package cruelty, selfishness and greed into pretty ideological systems to be exalted and defended.

Words change who and even what we are.

We cannot participate in or condone inhumanity and still remain human, not without carefully-chosen words that make such paradox possible. Skillful words that deny the humanity of those we abuse. Such skillful, powerful words, such amazing masterfully-used words, that can make us immune to the weeping eyes and the bleeding wounds of someone who is just like us.

If I can watch another human being suffer – something I am by nature hard-wired to be horrified by, mirror-neurons firing like crazy – and remain unmoved by or, worse, feel righteous satisfaction at the sight, then I am under the influence of words that are persuasive enough to override my most basic instincts. The wielder of those words is powerful beyond any measure of power we know.

The people who decide which words we use, which words we listen to, which words we will be prevented from hearing – the people who control the words control us all.

Are words ever honest? I don’t know. Even with no conscious agenda of control, there is a remove, always, between what I feel and what I say. Between what I say and what you hear. Between what you hear and what you feel. Even the simplest-seeming words can be a long and crooked road between two people. Sometimes the bridge is washed out.

Eyes can be honest. Hands can be honest. The sharing of an experience together – engaged presence in the moment – can be honest. But we can’t see or touch or stand with everyone. Most people we will know only through the stories – the words – we hear and speak about them. Right now, those stories are killing us.

Don’t trust the words. They aren’t magic. They aren’t even meaningful unless we give them meaning. They are tools, and until they are transparent – until we see through them to the fear and the ignorance they are protecting – they will invisibly, implacably run our lives.

Better yet, use the words. Tell different stories. Tell the same stories differently. Change the names. Ask different questions. Refuse to hear the same old answers.

What if I tell stories of cooperation? Tell stories of conflict from the point of view of the oppressed rather than the oppressor? What if I call everyone friend? Ask myself (and everyone around me) “what would I do, right now, if I were not afraid?”

What if I become deaf to the words “that’s just the way it is.”?

What words will you decide not to trust, anymore? What stories will you tell instead? I’d really like to know.



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2 thoughts on “Don’t Trust the Words

  1. Paulita December 17, 2014

    Wow. So powerful, Laurie.

  2. diana December 31, 2014

    You always use words so perfectly and so beautifully. Thank you for sharing them with us.


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