When doing some marking the other day, I came across a script where the candidate (a learner of English) had seen fit to double almost every T in their 150-word essay. In exasperation, I exclaimed: “You’ve used up all the Ts in the world.”
Then I realised that we will never run out of letters, and more importantly words. They are not renewable or finite, they are a limitless resource.
For with the privilege of owning this resource, comes responsibility.
We all share in this wealth of words and use it to express ourselves, validate our feelings, explain our actions and interact with each other. We combine words to give them context and meaning and it is in the merging of expressions that we hold power.
We can be clinical or empirical. We often flatter and praise, but we also abuse and put down.
Words are stupendous. They can build us up – why else would millions of people share inspirational quotes on social media every second of every day?
But for every positive exclamation, I would bet there are three negative utterances made – words that are used to hurt, humiliate, intimidate, manipulate and crush.
Whoever coined the nursery rhyme ‘sticks and stones may break your bones, but words will never hurt you’ had the best of intentions, but did not fully appreciate the psychological impact verbal abuse has.
In a day and age where we rely so heavily on social media, where the spoken word is written down, the potential for just one opinion to cause untold grief is as limitless as the resource we use to voice it.
Where is the line between having a grumble and cyber bullying? When does freedom of speech become criminal?
When the spoken word is written down, we lose the context, the intention and even the target. Misunderstanding abounds and is escalated by the ensuing ‘conversation’.
Entire television programmes rely on slanging matches between aggrieved parties who are having it out over who said what on Facebook. Statements can be read over and over, augmenting the misery. Private feuds become public property, where everyone suddenly has the right to provide input and interference.
All because of words used unwisely.
Then there are those who deliberately use words to belittle and isolate. The abusive monsters who use their voice to make out that their victim is really to blame, brought it on themselves, all the while crushing them into nothingness, into servitude, into oblivion, effectively removing their voice.
How about the person who inadvertently crushes someone’s spirit with a thoughtless comment? Have we not all done that before?
As writers, words are our trade. We take our time to make sure that the ones we put together say what we intend them to say, and still this is often not good enough. What is to say that the readers we share our writing with want to read our words, respect what we have written and understand our message.
Do writers who publish inferior, incorrect or contentious material affect the reputation of writers in general?
Before we all become mute in despair, let’s rejoice and celebrate when we get the words right:
The parent or teacher who inspires a child to greater things.
The friend who lifts another.
The orator who galvanises a nation into positive action.
The author who allows a reader to escape and enjoy.
People who unite to speak out for the greater good.
Still, do you not agree that owning this limitless resource – words – is a daunting responsibility?