I was never one who agreed with “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me” children’s rhyme. How could I? I grew up clinging to words of musicians like Bob Dylan, Nas, Eddie Vedder and Nina Simone. Lyrics matter. And how hypocritical would that be of me to write for a music and culture publication and say that words don’t matter? Today I am asking you to read the words in this post because they matter. They matter to me.
I often get into conversations with friends who say that people are too sensitive these days. They say “people just need to get over it”. I find myself saying, “okay, that might be true. So what? People are more sensitive these days, maybe you should get over that”. I challenge them to understand why someone might be sensitive to a word, or “a joke” or skit they might see on television. If they don’t understand then I tell them they don’t need to. Instead they should accept that it’s offensive to some people. How about just trying to support them by not furthering the use of it?
Words matter for many reasons but most importantly words are what separates us from all other living creatures. We are able to communicate with each other by using words. They are what connects us to one another. When someone comes along and uses words to sever those connections, that matters. It matters when words are used to denigrate, to separate and to dismiss us from one another. Who cares if people are more sensitive these days or not? Words still matter.
What transpired this past weekend in Charlottesville is much like what transpired in Charleston on June 17, 2015. It is much like what happened earlier this month at a Minnesota Mosque. It is much like what happens all the time not just in America but across this planet. You can call it fear of the unknown. You can say they are lone wolf incidents and you can debate whether or not we should call it terrorism. And yes you can also just ignore it. But let’s face it, every incident, every terrorist attack, every playground fight started because of words.
As often as words are used to start disagreements and wars they are also used to solve problems. Words are written into laws and proclamations. They are used to inspire you. They are used to calm a nation down in a time of disarray. Words are used to dismantle and stop the oppression and the hate. And most importantly they are used to connect you with me. They should not be used to separate.
Words matter. Words matter a lot. And they will be here long after you or me. Choose them wisely.