Words Matter

My world is shaped by words.

The better part of my days are spent writing them or reading them. I study words to determine what to say or how to say it or how, most of all, to make my ideas understood by a reader.

One of the things that I've learned as a writer is that words have power. When you form a thought and share it with the world--whether that is a book or a blog post or a tweet--the idea becomes its own entity. You may be the source and the words represent you, but when you share them, ideas can leave their own impressions on other people. They can illicit emotions from strangers. They can inspire people to take action.

After Somewhere In Between was published, with copies floating around the globe and waiting to be read in libraries, I realized that the words I choose and the ideas I present will represent me long after I finish writing them, and will continue to linger as I move on to my next projects. With publishing, your words leave an imprint, even as your skills get better or your beliefs evolve. Sharing my first book taught me to be mindful, deliberate, and aware of what kind of stones I may be casting into the world with my words.

In our digital landscape, it's not just novelists who need to be mindful of what we say or how we say it. Tweets can be used as evidence in court. The things we post can affect whether or not we get a job or promotion. Sometimes, too, our silence can have its own implications--both positive and negative. 

Our words, like our actions, have consequences.

That is why it is so disturbing to me that a presidential candidate can not only be hateful and ignorant in his rhetoric, careless with lies and reckless with threats--but also, when challenged on the fallacies and misalignment of his own statements, he does not take responsibility. He defended himself during the first presidential debate by saying, "They're just words."

We have watched the impact of Donald Trump's words. We have seen how his words have given license to people's intolerance, how that feeling of legitimacy has empowered them to take action. We have seen the riots outside his rallies and the Nazi gestures from his supporters. We have seen how the media--both traditional journalism and social media--has served as an echo chamber for Donald Trump with its coverage. We worry about what unfathomable things would happen if this man became president--or even the chaos he is creating in his attempt to become president. We have to deal with the consequences of Donald Trump's campaign, even if Donald himself doesn't take responsibility or feel the repercussions of his words.

His dismissal--"They're just words"--fails to acknowledge what I believe to be a truth that Gandhi had suggested:

Your beliefs become your thoughts.

Your thoughts become your words.

Your words become your actions.

Your actions become your values.

Your values become your destiny.

It's easy to regard Donald Trump as a bumbling, ignorant buffoon--because he is--but I think he understands this principle. We have watched him reinforce this idea--"It was a great success"--over and over again, regardless of whether or not he was actually successful. Most recently, reports have been released that Donald Trump is angry at his allies for conceding that he lost the first debate, and he has demanded that they stop publicly admitting that he was defeated. He understands how words can shape reality.

There are many people who, for whatever reason, choose to trust the false reality crafted by this one man, despite the constant, forceful barrage of facts from a wide range of sources--news reporting, scientists, religious leaders, and first hand accounts from people who have been exploited or violated by Donald Trump. Their dismissal of facts and unquestioning faith in his words have been helping him create a reality where, so far, he has been successful in his bid for president--defeating his Republican opponents and becoming the party's nominated candidate.

The first debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump--where Donald dismissed the impact of words and Clinton reminded us "Words matter"--was broadcast on the first night of Banned Book Week. Sometimes it's easy to assume that censorship is irrelevant. We can see the Banned Book Week displays at our local library and think it's quaint that The Wizard of Oz was once challenged. It's easy to take our intellectual freedom and freedom of expression for granted in a time when we are practically drowning in too much information, when we are constantly invited to share, when we have to block time away from our devices and the never-ending stream of other peoples' ideas and opinions.

But Banned Book Week is not a commemorative event to reflect on something from the past. With a candidate who bars the press from his events, who refuses transparency with his taxes, who lies continually, who blatantly disregards facts, who spins outrageous untruth, who tweets troll-like misogyny at 3am, who can't present a complete train of thought when asked to speak on a particular subject--and with supporters who enthusiastically endorse him just the same--we need to use our words to protect our values, and we need to protect our ability to use our words.

Our words matter. Language is our bridge from the intangible to the physical. It's the currency we use to exchange our intellect with each other. Whether they are shouted from rooftops or whispered in the dark or signed with hands or repeated to ourselves or written on walls, our words have the ability to empower us, defend us, connect us, and keep us moving forward.

I want you to know that your words are important. What you say, how you say it, if you speak up, when you remain silent, the beliefs you protect, the words you use to describe yourself--all make a difference.

Especially these days.

We need to be the voice of reason and use our words wisely, responsibly, and consistently.

Otherwise we give up our say in how this story unfolds.