Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Crashing Into You

http://www.flickr.com/photos/suburbanadventure/5280606799/
Words have consequences.  A very good friend of mine said that to me during a recent conversation.  And since I’d been thinking of writing about the power of words since I wrote my thoughts about The Reader a few blog posts ago, I took what my friend said as a clear ‘go’ signal from the Universe.

If you’ve ever had doubts about how powerful words are, imagine being illiterate.  Better yet, go to a foreign country where you don’t speak the language and/or where the characters used are not the Roman alphabet (e.g. JapanChinaThailand, etc.).  Imagine riding a train or a bus and then realize that the signs don’t make any sense to you, leaving you feeling lost.  Imagine turning on your television not understanding a word you hear and feeling left out, alienated, like someone who’s not being included in an important conversation.  This is why when I wrote about The Reader, I thought the part where Hanna Schmitz finally deciphered the word “the” was so powerful because suddenly, it was as if blinders were taken off from her eyes and things started making sense.  In that moment, the world became more meaningful to her.  It must’ve felt no different from being able to see, really see, for the very first time.  Imagine that moment!...the exhilaration, the sense of wonder, the sense of joy and pride and hunger for more!  

I don’t like wasting words.  Though I understand that at times we need ‘fillers’ to get by in this world---'hi'; ‘how’s it going’; ‘have a nice day’--- I still think there will always be a part of me that will find them wasteful and nonsensical (unless of course they're sincere, which is not the case in daily life).  Given my Sociology background, I know that Ethnomethodologically speaking, it makes sense that when you go to a store, most likely some attendant is bound to ask you at some point, “Can I help you?”, and that this is part of reproducing the social order.  It’s a practice with taken-for-granted meanings, at least in American society, and that being a part of this society assumes knowledge of those meanings and there is no need to challenge such ‘everyday practices’.  However, sometimes part of me still wants to be naughty and strip the ‘taken-for-grantedness’ off of such a statement and reply, “Yes I hope you can help.  Would you give me some clarification as to the existence of God?”

You see, I love intentional words, just as I love meaningful conversations and fail miserably at small talk.  Maybe it's because I love how words, when meant and pregnant with truth, have the capacity to genuinely move you and even cause your body to respond.  They can make your heart beat fast, tighten your stomach, cause you to blush. You could get goose bumps, make you choke, or weak in the knees.  Think of the consequences you experienced when someone you desired said 'I love you' to you, or maybe you uttered the same to someone who has always felt unlovable.  Think of the gift of assurance given when someone says 'I choose YOU' and the possibilities opened with that declaration.  Imagine the fears calmed and banished just with a simple 'Mommy's here' uttered to a helpless child.  And what about 'I forgive you' or 'I believe in you' and the spirits they heal?  I know too well how potent words are since I am one whose most significant relationships rely mainly on words.  As an adult migrant, most of my family and dearest friends are not physically with me and so we only have words for each other to bridge our gap, convey emotions and reveal truths.  Given my situation, I know too well how utterances can drive me insane, make my mood swing from one extreme end of the continuum to the other.  I have felt much of words' consequences indeed and my world, my consciousness, have  been shaped much too often by mere words so I can never deny their power.  Where action or physicality is not possible, words, whether spoken or written, become sufficient verbs.

Words can be so many different things to different people.  But one thing is certain.  Words, with their meanings, make it possible for our individual worlds to collide.  Let's do our best to make most of our collisions count!

48 comments:

  1. Great post! Love that the clerks in the stores should answer the existence of GOD question. You should ask one of them the question once and see what they say... Hope all is well

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  2. I'm one of those people who like to talk, interspersed with periods of silence of course. I think small talk for some people is a lifesaver. Lonely people often find excuses to visit the local shop just to have someone say hi, hello, how are you? It may be their only contact during the day. It proves your point of the power of words. But what is one persons small talk may be another persons lifeline.

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  3. I'm with you 100%. Excellent post.

    Part of something I rote back in May about language:

    "I love that I can select from among a million words, that I can play with the order of those words, and that I can ignore or embrace grammatical convention as I wish. What I find truly amazing is that I can further nuance my meaning by choosing what not to say – in the same way visual artists use negative space as a key element of composition, regardless of their medium. And how wonderful it is that my expressions actually have moods!

    Unfortunately with language sophistication so central to our human-ness, there is an unpleasant reality: we are likely to be judged throughout life by our ability to communicate or by the way we communicate in spite of the fact that we are only just beginning to document the diversity of the ways in which people communicate.

    In our ignorance of that, we are quick to judge people and make unfounded assumptions about the intellects of those who use language differently, use a different grammar, or use different forms of communication. "

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  4. Wow. How wonderful. Nice way to start my day (reading this post). You certainly have the gift of meaningful words and clear thought.

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  5. TV: LOL, I'm scared to actually try. Hope you and the fam are doing great too! Thanks again :-)

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  6. Mary: That's a VERY good point you made. I didn't think of it that way, that maybe small talk is essential for some, even a lifeline as you had said. I guess as I had written, as long as it is purposeful and sincere, then that's all that counts. :-)

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  7. Thom: That's a very important point you raised!...that it is sad how some ppl judge others' intelligence and value solely on their grammar and ability to use conventional words or ways of expression. We have a long way to go in terms of awareness of the various forms of intelligence. I know you're in Psychology so no one knows this better than you do! Thanks!!

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  8. MikeB: Trust me, I don't always feel so clear nor so gifted, hehehe....But once again, THANK YOU for your thoughts and your time! :-)

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  9. I have a question for you Joy: is there a word for everything? We speak too much (I am the first to do it), but I am not sure that we are always saying what matters and furthermore I think that words are sometimes useless.
    Have you tried to ask a shop assistant about God? That would be another good post!

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  10. Muriel: I'd like to believe that there are things we still don't have words for. To borrow from Thom above, sometimes, there's really more meaning in the void, right? As for the God question for a shop attendant, I still need to muster strength to pull that one off, lol!

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  11. Stopping by from the Alexa hop. Have a nice day!

    http://www.meldreamsoften.com/2011/06/knitting-in-summer.html

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  12. Words are tools of communication, which involves more than one person. Despite our best choice of words, ultimately we have little control as to how they are perceived on the receiving end. I think much of the challenge in life is to be understood.

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  13. I LOVE language and word usage. That is why I'm not crazy about Texts and Twitter and all that removes us from the beauty, the music of language. Thanks.

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  14. Joy, I love words and manipulating words. Perhaps that is something common to those who love to write.
    There is so much in your post to remind us of the power of words. These three short words say it all: words have consequences - they sure do

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  15. Your writing is gorgeous!!
    Stopping by from the alexa hop and I will definitely be back to read some more and am a new follower :)

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  16. hilmisi"Maybe it's because I love how words, when meant and pregnant with truth, have the capacity to genuinely move you and even cause your body to respond. They can make your heart beat fast, tighten your stomach, cause you to blush. You could get goose bumps, make you choke, or weak in the knees."

    Perfect description of the power of words. I'll never forget each of those emotions...I've felt them all when reading, watching movies, talking to others. Thanks for such a wonderful post!

    ~cath xx
    Twitter @jonesbabie

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  17. I so identified with this post on so many levels, Joy! I arrived in Japan for a student exchange many years ago and did not know a word. I cried myself to sleep that first night wondering how I would survive an entire year there.

    I'm also apart from my family, so I can relate to how words are now all we have. I was in a long-distance relationship for a year and a half and we survived on words every single day we were physically apart! =)

    As for "meaningless" words... I feel that phrases like "How are you?" are often more powerful and meaningful when we include a smile or a touch. =)

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  18. Hello! Visiting from the blog hop! Great post, please visit me back at www.fourlittlemonsters.com and follow me too :-)

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  19. Hello Joy -

    I am very inefficient with small talk and that is largely the reason why I am a very quiet person in my personal life. Although I may seem talkative here online, I am not talkative at home here amongst other people. I have always been a very quiet person and understand that the small talk goes absolutely no where. It's all just filler to spend some time.

    I prefer laughing and joking around, and also thrive in deep-thinking conversations. I like personal reflection conversations and ones where the true human elements shine; good or bad, those I prefer best. These are the conversations that help us to grow as people. I also greatly enjoy hearing someone's truest dreams and desires, not the classic "blah-blahs" mimicked from what they read, viewed on TV, or hear earlier in the day at the store. :)

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  20. Hey,

    I loved the post so much! I have lived in an Arabic country most of my life and we manage just fine without knowing the language fluently. I know how to read and write but I can't understand it just as well; but we manage fine without English. I remember a trip to a certain village in India, and though I am Indian, I couldn't understand the language spoken there. Most tough 3 days of my life! Language sure is a powerful thing!

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  21. Stopping by from the GWW blog hop! What a great post! I love words too. English was always my favorite subject and I am a huge reader. My hubby always teases me becuase without thinking I'll use a "big" word...says I like to show off. LOL

    Lisa

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  22. Congratulations on a truly thought provoking piece. It has me going off in so many different directions that I can't write about all of them here.

    As you say, "Words can be so many different things to different people." For me, words are like precious stones of all sizes, shapes, shades, glitter, forms, etc. that you have to pick through and feel and fondle and study their lights and their sharp edges and their soft curves and let them carry you into their own world of meaning or fantasy or light or darkness. And so on. Words are everything and without them, we are, as you say, lost or bereft.

    Unfortunately, in this world, too often words are misused or overused or repeated to the point of vexation. Words are misunderstood as often as they are understood. And the word, "the", can preface the most important word in the world as well as the least, which is more often the case.

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  23. Very enjoyable and thought provoking. I began to think about how good art (visual, performance, music-based etc.) has the power to move us in the way that words do. Words, however, can be dilivered to the recipient with a customized intent that most art cannot.

    Thanks for this post.

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  24. Really interesting post. Words do evoke so many different feelings and emotions. Sometimes we take those words the wrong way, sometimes they are meant they way the seem. Who knows. I'm babbling, I guess because some words from a friend really hurt me yesterday and I don't even know what the actual intent was. Words are hard to decipher too :)

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  25. Lalia: Oh words and the deciphering they go through...I can so relate with that. I can't even begin to tell you how much time I've spent in my life trying to decode someone else's words, haha! *of course it's not really funny* I hope you feel better soon....

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  26. So, did you write that email that you were speaking of on my blog? Words, words, words. I'm not great at small talk either. And it is amazing how words can change your entire mood or day.

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  27. Hi Joy,

    I enjoyed this post because living in Italy and learning a new language, you see the value of words in communicating with others.

    My twin nieces are 2 years old and when I don't collide with them, they look at me weird and I know I made a mistake. So I correct myself and know when it is correct when they respond the right way LOL.

    Thanks for this great post.

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  28. Did you watch Maya Angelou's interview on the Oprah Winfrey Network? Anyways, she also has great things to say about the power of words.

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  29. Very enjoyable and thought provoking. I began to think about how good art (visual, performance, music-based etc.) has the power to move us in the way that words do. Words, however, can be dilivered to the recipient with a customized intent that most art cannot.

    Thanks for this post.

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  30. Joy, I love words and manipulating words. Perhaps that is something common to those who love to write.
    There is so much in your post to remind us of the power of words. These three short words say it all: words have consequences - they sure do

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  31. Very enjoyable and thought provoking. I began to think about how good art (visual, performance, music-based etc.) has the power to move us in the way that words do. Words, however, can be dilivered to the recipient with a customized intent that most art cannot.

    Thanks for this post.

    ReplyDelete
  32. Very enjoyable and thought provoking. I began to think about how good art (visual, performance, music-based etc.) has the power to move us in the way that words do. Words, however, can be dilivered to the recipient with a customized intent that most art cannot.

    Thanks for this post.

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  33. Hi Joy,

    I thought you might be interested in a session of the World Book Club (free podcast) which featured Bernard S.'s "The Reader." It was a very interesting interview.

    Cheers!
    Ats

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  34. Wonderful post and so very true. I find that I often express myself better and clearer with the written word. I am a new follower!

    http://www.ourbananamoments.com
    http://www.facebook.com/ourbananamoments

    Marsha

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  35. Truer "words" were never spoken. Words are like toothpaste, once they're out our mouth, they're out...like toothpaste out of the tube. They're hard to take back. They can either change someone's whole day for the better or destroy someone. I love your blog! I found you via voiceBoks! Stop by and visit me at http://mynuggetsoftruth.blogspot.com/ Erin
    Eri

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  36. I loved your "words!" I still have to look up the meaning of some of the great ones, (catharsis being one!) Found you at vB. Want you to post about what the checker told you about the existence of God. That will be a good one!

    http://www.hereslivinthedream.blogspot.com

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  37. Glad you enjoyed it, Melanie! A lot of people have challenged me about that existence of God bit...hahahha! I have to be more courageous but should I decide to push through with it, I will make sure to let you guys know! :-))

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  38. Thanks for finding me via vB! And I like that toothpaste analogy...quite interesting and so very true!

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  39. Me too!! More of a writer than a talker. Thanks for visiting and following, Marsha :-))

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  40. Ats, I will surely check that out! Thanks for stopping by! Hope you've seen the movie cos I'm so obsessed with it!!!

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  41. As women, we need to remember that our words have power...especially to the people we love and who are close to us in our lives. They can lift someone up to achieve great things or tear someone down to lowest of lows. Thanks for this post. I've been surfing around your site a little bit. Love your writing! You have a beautiful family too! :) Stopping by from VoiceBoks to follow.

    Many blessings,
    Rosann
    http://www.christiansupermom.com/

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  42. What a great post! I think you are a brave soul to write what needs to be written. People need to think before they judge others. Words are more powerful than any weapon we, as humans, have except for prayer.

    Samantha from vB

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  43. What a great post! I think you are a brave soul to write what needs to be written. People need to think before they judge others. Words are more powerful than any weapon we, as humans, have except for prayer.

    Samantha from vB

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  44. Me too!! More of a writer than a talker. Thanks for visiting and following, Marsha :-))

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  45. Truer "words" were never spoken. Words are like toothpaste, once they're out our mouth, they're out...like toothpaste out of the tube. They're hard to take back. They can either change someone's whole day for the better or destroy someone. I love your blog! I found you via voiceBoks! Stop by and visit me at http://mynuggetsoftruth.blogspot.com/ Erin
    Eri

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  46. Hi Joy,

    I thought you might be interested in a session of the World Book Club (free podcast) which featured Bernard S.'s "The Reader." It was a very interesting interview.

    Cheers!
    Ats

    ReplyDelete
  47. Very enjoyable and thought provoking. I began to think about how good art (visual, performance, music-based etc.) has the power to move us in the way that words do. Words, however, can be dilivered to the recipient with a customized intent that most art cannot.

    Thanks for this post.

    ReplyDelete
  48. you have a nice blog. www.CouponAnna.com

    ReplyDelete

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