The Bible says the Creator called forth existence with the words, “Let there be light.” And, “In the beginning was the Word,” through which all things came into being and continue to arise.
Regardless of how we think life started and unfolds, we may consider, words create.
Some may claim, “Words are nothing. Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never harm me.” I, too, once thought so. Wrestling in my youth with a passion for writing, I anguished over the value of such a pursuit. After all, words don’t grow food or build houses; they’re insubstantial.
But I’ve come to learn while words are ‘no thing’ they’re the maker and slayer of all ‘things’. Chosen parcels of impassioned thoughts, from “please pass the pepper” to “I love you’ convey information and prompt action.
Often, with only someone’s words, we weave pictures of the world and act. I’ve heard talk show hosts stir up animosity in listeners asserting immigrants are “leeches’ sucking resources from government programs. It’s easy to serve up generalities. Instead, comedian Christela Alonzo tells tales of Latino friends and family. She jokes her undocumented mom hid from Brownies selling Girl Scout cookies, scared they were border control officers in training. Many immigrants are afraid to use government programs, even after becoming citizens, like her mom who refused Medicaid and died young without needed care. Once words are shared, who knows what they’ll arouse. So,
I’m watchful of words.
I recently heard my friend, June, is a Trump supporter. This baffles me, a Bernie fan. June listens to ‘conservative’ news while I, ‘progressive’. She says she’s excited about Trump bringing jobs back to America by cutting excessive taxes on corporations. I’d never heard this voiced by liberal reports. I shared I fear Trump’s corporate ties will hurt common folks. June isn’t worried. She thinks he’ll do right by us. I believe the political divide across which our country battles is fed by partially pointing words beyond which caring folks don’t see common ground.
Words are powerful instigators.
Disturbed by my long time ‘false comfort of group think’, given the one-sidedness of my sources, I’ve started tuning into news more broadly, alternating between various media on given days to piece together my own story. I take days off between to let things settle and sort.
Ideas, like food, need to be digested to extract what’s useful.
Consuming diverse reports forces me to chew on words rather than swallowing them whole. Applying a dose of reasoning, I hope to extract a glimpse of life beyond my experience.
One bit of advice I keep in mind is that when an opposing party wins an election, it’ll promote an opposing agenda. But, opposing need not mean ‘oppositional’ but ‘opposite’. My work is to discern when diverse views are complementary and when they’re harmful.
I recently watched a YouTube link sent by progressive Citizen’s Climate Lobby introducing a conservative plan for climate action. I was delighted to hear former Republican cabinet members express real concern or measured precaution about risks of global warming. As thoughtful elders of the Climate Leadership Council stepped across the aisle to share their Conservative Case for Carbon Dividends, I realized I’ve been ignoring business needs in favor of environmental ones. Both require attention. While I’m wary about eliminating all environmental regulations the plan proposes,
I’ll taste a new dish to see if I like it.
After all, arguing my case without considering another’s, I miss mistakes and learning. At times when there’s no right or wrong, simply different perspectives, my friend, Catherine, and her husband seek a third point with which they can both align. When she wants to go on vacation and he, save money, a staycation of day trips around the area satisfies both. Reaching from opposite points on a line toward a pinnacle, they form a triangle containing each side. Mathematician Michael Schneider says the world of opposites arises from one point. Interplays of duality find resolution through synthesis of a triad. While it’s easy to hold fast to our point of view forgetting we’re a piece of the pie,
When we listen and speak for common good we build democracy.
Words like “We’re number one!”, “We won!”, and “They’re creamed” may inspire feats in sports, but lay waste real needs of living beings. They’re battle cries, not community builders. I’m concerned when my fourth grade student, Zach, is anxious to be ‘the best’ which is different than being ‘his best’. He’s ingested our culture’s banter and cultivated an oppositional stance.
Words define worlds.
I cringe when folks cry, “Dump Trump!” Insults deter communication; attacks fuel fights. Pleas like “Diversity Matters” and “Love Thy Neighbor” draw us closer. The stab “Republicans couldn’t get a health care bill together” is a lost opportunity for spreading understanding. Acknowledging Republicans are abstaining until a more appetizing entrée is prepared settles the civic stomach.
Words build barriers or bridges.
Sugars coated sayings, like cotton candy, are empty and can be sickening. “Globalization lifts all boats” is enticing but can deliver greed and suffering. Phrases fettered from reality need be passed up lest they clog thinking. But measured words bursting with life are hard to let go. Bitter tasting, “What comes around goes around” burrows in disturbing deception’s enchantment, breaking illusion’s bubble, pestering me to swallow truth.
Real words stick.
Gandhi said Westerners read too much. He sat in silence to garner reality. Some of the wisest souls to walk the earth are illiterate. In Waldorf Schools, children aren’t taught to read until 4th grade to allow imaginative forces to develop. Once formed, children have grounding against which to weigh words. California Governor Jerry Brown says while science cooks up a banquet of data it lacks wisdom to serve the good. Letting words settle helps me discover their value.
Reading broadens our world. Silence deepens it.
We may fear losing touch if we drop out of the stream of current events. But by constantly consuming each glimmering or gruesome detail, we miss the big picture.
A glut of information causes indigestion.
With excess accounts available, I can conceive of knowing what’s happening everywhere. But see from my difficulty deciphering differing stories of student fights in my classroom, I can at most comprehend bits of the world around.
There’s much we don’t know; little we control.
Confucius says social order starts with individuals and spreads outward. Souls sincerely sifting reality develop character which nurtures order in families, good governance in states and peace in the world.
Everybody’s words flavor the cultural cuisine.
William Wordsworth sat silently in nature sipping inspiration. Imagination brimming, he prepared poems and passed them ‘cross our table:
Wisdom and Spirit of the universe!
… from my first dawn
Of childhood didst thou intertwine for me
The passions that build up our human soul;
… with enduring things,
… purifying thus
…feeling and … thought,
… until we recognize
A grandeur in the beatings of the heart.
Words are stars we follow to tomorrow.
May ours nourish common good.