In a recent TED talk, Krista Tippett talks about how words matter.
“Words shape the way we see ourselves, the way we interpret the world and the way we treat others.”
When we are at our best, we tend to choose the words we use wisely. When we are afraid or angry, these intense emotions often push aside our filters and we become prone to making unfortunate decisions relative to what comes out of our mouth.
All of us experience this regularly in our every day lives, and we surely are witnessing it now in the public sphere. The current events related to gun violence are revealing what happens when people are afraid. The emotion of fear, which has as it’s narrative, “Something specific in the future is likely to harm me” is alive and well here. Our emotions strongly influence the language we use. And while we can point at this as the underpinning of the unhelpful speech we are hearing from our politicians and neighbors, we cannot accept it as an excuse for saying things that make the situation worse.
I believe we have an obligation to ourselves and each other to recognize when we are afraid. When we have this awareness, we can do a check in before we speak, so that we don’t say something destructive. We can take our own pulse and ask ourselves, “In light of my fear, how am I seeing myself and the world?” This helps us choose words that make things better by enhancing understanding. It allows us to see the ‘other’ as something other than evil.
If we want to treat people in ways that are helpful and make us proud, we are better served by using language that is generative and moves us forward together. Often I feel helpless to be an agent of change around big issues like this. However, I do know that I can have an impact by simply choosing to say things that invite others to think a little more deeply and stay in the conversation. We are all capable of this, we just need to make a commitment to doing it. I plan on it. I hope you do too.