“Words have consequences.” I’m certain you’ve heard that before. Most memorable to me was former POTUS Barack Obama when he said that. In the same conversation he said, “Elections have consequences.” Both quotes are right-on. Our words do have the unique ability to mean life or death to whom they are spoken. The Bible says “from the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.” More often than not whatever we actually speak in words is not all we mean. It is what is behind the words we actually utter that sometimes cause more difficulty and confusion than our words alone: consequences.
We all can quickly recall words we have heard from others that have become indelible memories — both good and bad. We guys are typically in a world of hurt when it comes to our words. We get in trouble all the time! Often with our spouses it really doesn’t matter WHAT we say, it will probably be wrong. You know what I mean. “Honey, does this dress make my butt look too big?” Hmm….what’s the correct response? If I say, “No it doesn’t,” she’ll respond, “So you’re saying my butt IS big just not TOO big?” But if you said that first she’d probably attack you for not saying, “Your butt is perfect: not too big, not too small, just perfect.” Words always have meaning, and sometime the actual meaning is not what the hearer “hears.” No matter what the listener thinks was said and what the speaker meant, there will always be consequences for those words.
Cultures change social norms from time to time. Millennials speak using words and phrases Baby Boomers cannot understand. That not understanding probably causes more strife, angst, anger, and incorrect decisions in every way in our lives simply because words result in responses. Sometimes we respond in anger, hurt, disappointment, joy, excitement, acceptance or rejection, love or hate — but our responses are often NOT accurate in light of the words spoken that prompt our responses.
The World has been graced with amazing “wordsmiths” in every generation — those who have a knack for expression of written and spoken word unparalleled in history. William Shakespeare is one of the best known. Not only are his plays intellectually challenging, some of his written life commentary is mind boggling. Abraham Lincoln made statements that still make us think, as did John F. Kennedy and Mother Teresa. Who can ever forget Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his life changing speeches. (see their comments, statements, and even some humor below their pictures)
Unfortunately the World is void of the guidance of speeches, writings, quotes, and exhortations like those seen in the past from the heroes quoted above and others. Words today — maybe because of the influence of the internet, satellite communication, YouTube, and the abundance of “instant” news — our “communication culture” is no longer one of accepting words from important people at face value.
Our culture has morphed into one of doubt and disbelief. Maybe that is due chiefly to our “instant” news society, but there are many contributing factors. We do not read like in the past. Electronic media have replaced the written word in our lives. And to exacerbate the fallout from that is that even when we read, we skim books and stories rather than digest and analyze full content of what is there. Even television news is offered in sound bytes today. Often is heard “I just want the executive summary;” or “Give me the ’30-thousand foot’ perspective.” Because of that changing culture in our world of words, we talk in sound bytes too.
I’m not a shrink, but I do know words can injure others — especially those closest to us. How many times in your life have you made these or similar statements or asked similar questions to those you love: “You make me mad;” or “Are you stupid?” You might have said when you child tells you of something from school, “I can’t believe you are so dumb you believe that,” or “That is the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.” Words have consequences.
So what price do we pay? Obviously with family members and close friends the costs can be very high. However, friends and family members are more forgiving than others. Outside of this group — at work, extended acquaintances, social groups, etc. — words like those above can destroy personal and business relationships plus reputations. And it’s really hard to put the word-genie “back in the bottle.” Remember this old saying, “I’m careful today of the words I speak. I keep them soft and sweet. I never know which of those words tomorrow I may have to eat.”
Why is this getting worse and worse? It is because of the social and community environment today from which we are blanketed with instant news from hundreds of sources 24/7. That in itself is not bad, but what poisons the water is that news is no longer news. Almost without fail, the words in every news story — electronic or print — is not the “pure” news but rather is “interpreted” to the World by the presenter. And the presenter always has a vested interest in making that “news” bigger than it is, uglier than it is, and more horrific than it is. Why? Words that grab the attention of an audience become quotable, distributable, and that turns into print circulation and broadcast ratings, which turns into advertising dollars. It’s about the money. That entire mindset has transitioned into the non-news workplace, social meeting places, religious communities, and at home. Our communication with each and the words we use no longer are well thought out but rather extemporaneous, and immediate. Subsequently our words cut to the hearts of those we know and love whether truthful or just emotional.
Unfortunately I cannot see this getting any better. In communication the World is at a tipping point. World conflicts begin with actions. But often those actions are initiated by the understanding (or lack of understanding) of the words spoken by countries’ leaders. Often statements are interpreted as threats. Human nature dictates decisions are made in direct response to the hearer’s interpretation of the meaning of the speaker. Think about that: what happens if the hearer interpreted a statement as a threat and subsequently takes actions that lead to all out war? And what if that statement was MIS-interpreted and that the speaker’s intent was far from what the hearer’s interpretation was? In this sound byte world, it is very reasonable to believe this could happen.
Clearing our use of words properly cannot be legislated. The only way to a “cure” is for each of us to personally tackle this issue in our own lives. If we effectively make the changes in our lives and teach it to our children, we can begin a word communication healing process that hopefully will spread generationally. That will take time and hard work. But we must aggressively move in that direction.
Make certain you read tomorrow’s Epilogue of this story at dnewman.org. In it I will call out FOX News, something I thought I would never do. In this environment of having problems with words, FOX has typically been as their slug line says: “Fair and Balanced,” until now. You don’t want to miss it. And at the homepage of the blog site dnewman.org, you can enter your name and email address to receive an email notice everytime a new story is posted. Thanks for reading!