Monday, July 11, 2016

No Really, Guys: Your Words Matter

Words matter.

I always tell my Innovative Editing or continuing education writing students that, usually in the context of authorship: choosing what you’re going to say and how you’re going to say it.

Yes, they’re your words. You own them, and therefore they exist to do your bidding, whether that’s to compliment, insult, debate, provoke or inspire. As the author – whether of fiction or non-fiction, books, articles or social media posts – you have a lot of power.

By choosing specific vocabulary in a specific order, you can inspire a lot of emotion, whether love or hatred, sympathy or disgust, acceptance or dismissal, assurance or trepidation.

Now, I’m not saying we shouldn’t ever try to inspire negative emotions. Far from it. Sometimes negative emotions keep us from getting hurt or getting hurt worse.

Animosity, revulsion, rejection and fear: We have the instinctive ability to feel all of that for a reason. It makes us edge away from a rattlesnake to avoid getting bitten… or recognize that murder is wrong and that murderers need to be brought to justice… or consider other’s feelings when we express our own.

That last one might sound a little out of place. But think about it: Fear of hurting your fellow human beings or making them think badly of you can prevent a lot of unnecessary damage, whether to them or to yourself.

When you don’t have that healthy amount of fear, it gets far too easy to spread malicious gossip and lies that can literally lead to death. People kill themselves and others over the words they hear, either so devastated or so infuriated that they take permanent, devastating action.

It’s a fact that comes to light all too often these days… and has throughout history.

Afraid yet?

Good. You should be.

Of course, there’s a line. You should never be afraid to defend truth – just as long as you take the time to understand what truth is. And you should never be afraid to be yourself – just as long as yourself is something that genuinely ensures a better future.

So seriously, people: Words matter.

Please think about that the next time you're choosing which ones to use.

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