It’s been an interesting year for the world of words – an interesting few years. The role the media plays in shaping our collective and private thinking has never been more hotly debated, and the way we speak to and about each other is rumbling beneath all this, thrumming to the quickening pulse of social upheaval.
Today’s news, of course, is peppered throughout with stories about the breaking Harvey Weinstein scandal. Many voices have spoken to it today, but what stands out for me about this story — and so many like it — is that it highlights what has remained unspoken for so long. In fact, what we’re calling breaking news actually appears to be a simmering cauldron of suppressed information that is only now bubbling over. And what’s even more notable about this situation is that it features people who are supposedly in power; women and men in an industry that puts them on a platform from which their voices can carry significantly. Unfortunately, no matter how far our voices can carry, we can still be convinced – either by ourselves or others – that we would be better off muting them.
At the very least, I hope the message we take from all this is that it’s important to speak out. But beyond that, I hope we can start to appreciate the value of speaking up. Not just making our voices heard, but using them to elevate and stretch ourselves toward something better.
Consider all the inflammatory and reactionary chatter out there – you know, the stuff that’s giving you hives. Not to get all mathematically complicated on you, but doesn’t it follow that if words can do so much bad, they can do as much good, too? And I don’t just mean “good” in the sense of saccharine, heartwarming stories that are proliferating throughout social media like so much candy sprinkled over a war zone. I mean speaking up; using words to improve, to invigorate, to inspire.
And while we both know you want to go telling yourself that your voice isn’t loud or strong or impressive enough, we also both know that isn’t true. A simple “yes” or “no” can have enormous speaking up power, as can simply speaking up where and when you feel you can. Apologizing to a spouse, for example, in a way that shows vulnerability and love, is a way to speak up that can have enormous ripple effects. You can apologize to your children with grace, too, and really blow wide open their blossoming concepts of power. Or you can write a few sentences in that novel you’re sure you won’t have time to finish in any foreseeable future, or erase a few that you wrote because you decided you had to explain or defend or otherwise bury your truth in others’ perceptions.
The bottom line is that if we’re navigating an onslaught of words, instead of wringing our hands about all the havoc they’re creating, or diving into the mud-slinging, twittering fray, maybe more of us can seize this as an opportunity to do more with our words than we ever thought possible.
Art: Piet Mondrian, Composition No, VII, 1913