The Power of Words

Words have power. That much we know. As a poet, college writing instructor, parent, and grandparent, I know this very well.

As consumers of information, we are inundated by images and memes that we think represent a cogent world view. When, in fact, they can perpetuate misguided stereotypes and increase a predictable divide.

So, we must take those words and ideas a bit further. We should dig deeper to find the words that truly represent what we feel and how we should act. I believe that thoughts become words and words become actions. Thus, the importance of thinking critically and compassionately about the words we put into the world.

I read every day. Lately, I have been reading biographies of famous writers and great thinkers. What they have in common is that they examine their philosophies through writing.

So, my words about today. Inauguration day. The day that feels like our social justice causes have been set back 100 years or more. The day that makes me fear my core values will be greatly compromised in the next 100 days.

I want to bridge divides, but I have never been more afraid in my life for the attitudes and policies that are coming our way. It is more important than ever to choose my words carefully.

Let’s talk about anger for a minute. Anger can be useful and justified. I won’t apologize for getting angry about social injustice. But, I don’t have to let anger rule my words. My words can reflect how I feel about issues that are paramount to me without demeaning or degrading another person. This can be hard to accomplish when some people mock and threaten the human rights and dignity of others.

The truth is that those words and attitudes make news. People want to see the ugliness, but we can’t ignore the pain of millions who can’t express their feelings in an eloquent or thoughtful fashion.

As a grandparent, I have learned so much about unconditional love and acceptance. As a daughter of an aging parent, I have learned about forgiveness and acceptance of forgiveness.

I have learned about taking care of myself and mostly about taking personal responsibility for my words.

Though I feel like turning off my television for the next four years, I will not. I will remain vigilant and always stand up for the rights of others. I will help fight by giving to the causes I feel are important and represent my core values such as the environment, healthcare, and education, just to name a few. When you speak out against someone, to say he or she is not as valued as you are, then I will be angry, but my words will reflect the kindness and justice I feel in my heart. Sometimes a poem expresses best. Sometimes a poet is the best person to communicate.

Let us go headlong into the fog

to find exactly what we fear.

To find what is unknowable

we look at something dark.

Something opaque like fog.

Something we do not understand.

Something like love.

If we are all on the same page, then we will want what is best for the person who has less than we have. We won’t jealously hold onto what we think is power when we are threatened by the unknown, by what we fear.

Susan Ward Trestrail, 2017

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