Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Words We Choose

I have been in a writing slump. Hospitals, holidays and lack of inspiration made my brain a blank and my fingers too lazy to type. But I am back at it because of this weekend's horrible events in Arizona. The shooting of Gabrielle Giffords and others, the death of a nine year old girl born on 9/11, the sheriff's comments about "political vitriol in the media" not only made my fingers itch and my brain fill but made my heart sore. Writing is the only way I know to reduce the pain. Words have a lot of power both for good and for ill.

In reading the many articles and opinion pieces in the aftermath of Saturday's shooting, I discovered Gabrielle Giffords, in her political life, was attacked by those on the left as well as those on the right.  Certain personalities on the right put her in "crosshairs of [their] target map." But liberals also declared her "dead to them" when she voted against the Obama health care plan and later voted against Pelosi as minority leader. Numerous media outlets and "opinionators" are blaming specific people for the shooting. Still others are blaming the media in general. What are they concerned about?  The words flowing in our political water sources and poisoning our own groundwater tables, reservoirs and wells.

It doesn't take much to incite violence in those who are dealing with mental illness or anger issues predisposing them to be violent themselves. With the MD mailbombs, it was something as simple as "see something, say something" and a reaction to that statement.  So words of violence can be expected to cause even more harm.

Words can harm but they also can heal.  Jesus used words of hope and love to make an impact, sharp at times, but not threatening. A man who died a violent end, he lived a life of peace. An example to all, his words still survive to give us guidance. But for those who have put pen to paper or spoken out through time, it can be more of a challenge to get the words right. 

Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote, "so innocent and powerless as they are, as standing in a dictionary, how potent for good and evil they become in the hands of one who knows how to combine them." I would like to focus on the good. Words can  inspire us to reach toward God, reach toward a higher purpose in our lives.  Those words can be found in fiction and non-fiction, books and newspapers, blogs and tweets. What responsibility we have as writers or simply those voicing our opinions to carefully choose the words we use, the lessons we teach.

What lessons do I hope will be taken from this tragedy?  Strong words should be allowed in political and personal discourse. More than just allowed, they are a right. But strong words don't have to be violent words. More importantly, where are the positive words in our lives? How much do we use positive words to inspire and move us forward? Will the speeches of Congress be spoken in a more positive manner after this event?  I hope so. They have already cancelled any votes this coming week out of respect for the situation and have time to reflect. But will we think about the influence we have with our words in our writing and speaking?  Will we set forth good examples and be more positive about those we disagree with or, at least, less prone to use words of hyperbole and caricature? I hope so. I know I am going to watch the "words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart" and hopefully, with God's help, choose wisely.

What words are the most powerful and positive for you? What writers have inspired you in a positive manner? How can you be more positive in your speech and thought?