Wednesday, June 21

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will always shape me.

"It's only talk," and "It's just a joke," are, I believe, some of the cleverest lies out there. Perhaps it's my love of words, reading, and hearing my own voice, that lead me to it, but I believe that words are powerful tools and dangerous weapons.

It's a little known, and for some reason suprising (is it my spelling?) fact that I left high school with my eye fixated on an English degree. I arrived at college and had the understanding that I was likely to switch my major. This is where things get fuzzy; I'm not sure if my "I'll do this English thing until I decide what I *really* want" mentality came from a lack of committment to English, or from an over-committment to my belief in switching majors. The point being, I'm not sure that I didn't want to be an English major.

Anyhow, on to my more general point. I firmly believe that the words we choose to use continuously shape our understanding. Positive and negetive connotations travel with every word wherever it goes. The tone of voice used can often convey far more meaning than the word alone. For instance I knew a guy who said "fat" with such derision that I could feel his contempt for anyone to whom that term may apply, even if he was only talking about fat bike tires.

I'm inclined to see it as the common LDS thought that you can gain a testimony by bearing it. Normally the thought process says that as you speak the Holy Ghost will bear witness to you of the truth of what you are saying. In this way bearing testimony can be a leap of faith, a desire to believe, that is rewarded by increased confirmation. Whenever we speak we are, in a sense bearing testimony. Though the Holy Ghost may or may not be involved in our daily speech we are certainly outlining, and reinforcing patterns. Patterns of thought, tone, and action. I'm sure my friend didn't start out saying the word 'Fat' like he was spitting it out, but he certainly said it the same way every time he said it. By using it with contempt a few times, it became a contempt filled word. By making excuses for being a stay at home mom, I come to believe that I need excuses. By stating my beliefs in an apologetic way, I come to believe that they need to be aplogized for.

I remember a line from Gattaca where Antone is trying to convince Vincent that he doesn't belong at Gattaca, and can't succeed. Vincent's pithy response is "who are you trying to convince?"

I'm fond of an idea from CS Lewis, where he says that (paraphrasing) "it is useless to sit around trying to manufacture feelings. The best way to create a feeling of love for someone else is to act as if you already do love them." Part of that action, I believe, are the words we say.


Rich said...

I love how James describes the power of the tongue in the 3rd Chapter:

Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth!

And this from Richard L. Evans:
“Language is the dress of thought; every time you talk your mind is on parade”

Somewhat tangential to the point of your post, but it's been on my mind (from a lesson I taught recently).

Great post SF. You continue to impress me with wisdom far beyond your years.

Stephen said...

Suzette Haden Elgin spent so much time on what she calls the gentle art (non-aggressive, verbal self defense) because she feels the way you do.

You ought to look at her books at (I link to Amazon, but barnes and noble has some "can't beat" specials).

I think you would enjoy her. She also blogs at:

and can be found at:

I obviously think well of her, but I think you would too.

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