*I am participating in Momalom’s Five for Five Challenge. Today’s topic is words.
Writing a post about words is a bit like painting a picture about colors. The possibilities are endless and yet knowing how to begin is a challenge.
I could open with a speech that moved me and millions others who wanted to believe in something big and grand.
I could start with how endlessly fascinated I am watching my son acquire new words in his ever-growing arsenal of vocabulary — words he quickly puts to use to tell stories, to reason with the conviction of a barrister, to negotiate for more time climbing trees or hanging from monkey bars.
I could begin with the first time I ever played the word game called Bananagrams. I was with nine wonderful women waiting for a puddle-jumper from Kigali to Kamembe, Rwanda, the entry point to our trip to eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, known in human and women’s rights circles as the rape capital of the world. We got up and got moving at the crack of dawn. The little plane was thrice delayed. Learning to play Bananagrams proved to be the perfect exercise in flexibility that I needed to hold on to during the trip. And well beyond.
THE POWER OF WORDS, THE POSITIVES
The power of words has an overwhelming potential to generate good.
As a tool, I am in awe of how words can be used to communicate, to connect, to express emotion, to break down imaginary walls, to unlock imagination, to process ideas, to stimulate creativity, to discover varying degrees of truths, and so on. I listened in awe and with tears to Congolese women, survivors of gang rape and massacre, recite poetry and sing songs of their tenets to transform pain to power in French, Swahili and English. So much truth, often in multiple layers, is captured in a poem or a song, in any language.
Words of praise or admonition help me become a better mother when spoken with accuracy and sincerity. When combined with hugs and kisses, my happy and affectionate son responds as though I’m the best mother he could possibly have!
Words of love and compassion to a friend, an acquaintance or a perfect stranger can affirm one’s faith in humanity. A simple hello to a homeless man who has felt invisible for a long time can remind him that as long as there is life, there remains hope.
As a tool for activism, words can move masses to a higher plane. Words can strike an arrow into the hearts of civic-minded citizens, thus, creating an impetus for a new conversation, a new reality, a more evolved awareness. Words, at their most potent, can elevate civil rights, women’s rights, LGBT rights and environmental justice issues to penetrate mainstream thoughts. Words have launched movements and given birth to heroes.
THE POWER OF WORDS, THE NEGATIVES
If words can create good, the opposite is also true. The words we speak or write (or leave unsaid), and how we say them have the potential to be damaging to our personal selves, our families, our culture.
Ever listen to talk radio or watch news-style entertainment? Mainstream media propagates untruths that the average audience does not have the time (or if they’re anything like me, the energy) to fact-check. If comedians are not part of the show, chances are the audience will accept the words as factual news if the delivery system is perceived to be credible.
Self-deprecating words and apologies for things beyond our control, while they may ingratiate oneself as an attempt to establish/strengthen rapport, may be fine if used sparingly. But as a habit practiced over time, these mini verbal scourges can lead to a growing negative self-talk, capable of eroding one’s confidence, courage or self-esteem.
And what of how we deliver these words? A raised voice? Salty sarcasm? Dripping disdain? An evolved and happy grown-up may hold her own, but to a child whose verbal skills are still developing, is damage incurred? And if so, is it irreversible?
LOVE OF WORDS
I love words for so many reasons. Words can heal and bring about transformation. Words can challenge us and bring out the best in us. Words can inspire and create good things.
I recall my excitement when my son, barely a year old, sounded out his first words. His very first? Tattoo. Thanks to a temporary tattoo I used to sport consistently in various states during a certain election season. Soon after that, he learned momma, daddy, ball, banana, car. We wrote a rap about it at the time, which, to this day, continues to be heard at any given time into a microphone.
My son’s first foray into the magical world of words has developed into a budding love affair. He starts the day with make-believe story-telling and ends the day with bedtime books. This thrills me as I anticipate him to be fully comfortable and adept at using words to learn, to grow, to express his thoughts and feelings.
Words, in any language, are powerful. But as words continue to give me that satisfied feeling as I finish a written piece, I need to remember one thing. I am compelled to remind myself that, no matter how beautifully spoken, how lyrically written, how deeply felt, words are just the beginning.
Do words inspire you?
Have you ever found yourself moved by words into action? A transformation?
Have words ever stunned you into silence?
Do you play Bananagrams?
*Day two of the Five for Five Momalom challenge. Participants will post once each day for five days in response to five topics: change, words, pictures, age, listening.