Words have meaning

Posted on January 9, 2011


From the very first time we utter the word “mama” or “dada” and one of our parents respond, we learn that words have a meaning to them.  In the beginning we mainly come to understand the  dictionary definitions, or rather the literal meanings behind words.  We soon understand that when we say the word “Crayon” other people know what we mean.  When we are children, words are mostly just letters jammed together in different ways, but at the same time they become magical as those words are jammed together to tell a story that fills our imagination.  Soon we learn that words don’t just help us tell people what we mean, but that they can help us share ourselves with one another.

It isn’t long though that we find out, that the meaning of words are not confined to dictionary definitions…we learn that words have power.  We find out as we go through school, adolescence, and young adulthood, what words can build us up, or can tear down others.  We find out how easy it is to use words to get detention, or start a fight.  The ones that comfort out friends, and express our love to the people care about.  We even realize that how we say a word can inflame, or diffuse a situation.  We spend the better part of  our lives learning how our words can, and do affect others, and how their words affect us, which is why I am always sad and frustrated when people can’t or won’t take responsibility for their words.

The reason this is at the fore front of my mind is because of the events in Tucson yesterday.  Normally I don’t like to get into political topics, and even though in talking about this my point is not about politics, but words, I do know that this is a politically charged subject at the moment.  I just feel I need to get this off of my chest.

What happened yesterday is appalling and tragic, and there are just no words that will ever sooth the pain for the families of the people who died, and for the ones injured or fighting to live.  There is no doubt, no questioned that the suspect, Jared Loughner, should be held responsible for his actions, even if he is proven to have been insane at the time of the shootings, he still pulled that trigger…he still killed those 6 people, and injured 14 more.

Now there has been a lot of back and forth about how Sarah Palin, is or isn’t at fault, the suspect was a part of the Tea Party, or was he a liberal, or all the Republican and Tea Partiers should be prosecuted, or shot or blah, blah, blah, blah.  Here is what I believe.  Words have meaning, and intent isn’t magical.  Just because Sarah Palin didn’t intend for anyone to seriously go out and shoot politicians who voted for the Health Care Reform act, doesn’t mean that someone couldn’t interpret her words to mean just that.  Just because Jesse Kelly, her opponent in last years elections, didn’t really intend for people to shoot an M-16 at  Rep. Giffords to remove her from office, doesn’t mean someone couldn’t take his words as gospel.  Obviously no one can account for how everyone interprets what you say, there are just to many variables.

However when it seems that a common theme between the things Palin, Kelly, some Tea Partiers, and Republicans have said,  alludes to unseating your opponents through violence, someone has to see how this can create a culture of political violence.  I will go on record that both sides have been guilty, and in the aftermath are guilty of the same hateful, and virulent  speech towards one another.  Now I won’t go so far as to say that Ms. Palin, her supporters, or Mr. Kelly “have blood on their hands” or that they should be held criminally liable for what happened, they didn’t put the gun in the suspects hands, drive him to the scene, and force him to start shooting.    I do, however,  think that pundits on both sides need to take a long look deep in their hearts, and admit that they could have chosen their words better, and that whether they intended to or not their words could certainly be interpreted as a call to violence…and not only by someone who might be mentally unstable.  I mean is it ever really necessary to alluded to unseating your opponent with an M-16, or putting cross hairs (call it what you like Ms. Palin, they are still cross hairs) over your opponents states/districts…aren’t there so many other words, and graphics that could be used to rally people on your side?

I want to conclude by saying that I don’t believe anyone should heavily censor themselves, but I do believe that people need to think, really think before they speak, and realize what their words might mean to someone.  You can’t prevent that one or two out of millions  from twisting your words and using them to fuel their own destructive means, but when time, and again your overall tone, and imagery has been one of violence, you need to take responsibility for that. It can be said that the suspect might have still went on a rampage even without the vitriolic words between political opponents, on the flip side you could say if it hadn’t been  Jared Loughner it could have been someone else.  The point is dealing in “might have beens” and “Ifs” doesn’t change what happened and the current atmosphere in politics.  You need to realize how your words effect other people.  You need to have enough backbone to stand up and admit how your words may have affected others, how regardless of intent there was an underlying message of malice.  Yes, we live in a great country, where we have many freedoms, and the Freedom of Speech is one we are most proud of, but there is no freedom from the consequences of speech.  Freedom of Speech doesn’t absolve you of taking responsibility for your words.  There is a reason it is illegal to yell “Fire” in a crowd when there isn’t one, words have power, words have meaning, words can calm a crowd, or insight a riot.  Use your words responsibly.

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