The Value of Words

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I’m obsessed with words. When I think about how amazing it is that I can arrange 26 letters in any way I want to convey to others what is going on in my head, I totally geek out. My love affair with letters isn’t surprising since I’m a writer. But I was excited about the concept of language long before I became a writer. Ever since my mom sat me down at our kitchen table and taught me about the alphabet, I recognized the importance of language. Because of my mom’s lessons, I was becoming familiar with letters, but I had an epiphany when I was three years old and noticed that the Joy soap on my bathtub had the same character as my name—-J—and made the same sound as my J did! I experience the same level of excitement today when I think about choosing which word to use in a poem, an essay, a novel, or even a text. Language is powerful.

I am so aware of the power of language that I cringe every time President Donald Trump opens his mouth or when he tweets, because I fear what combination of letters and words will roll out of him (“covfefe” was downright painful for me to witness). I’ve seen a lot of word abuse going on in recent history. Some of it is the result of recklessness. An unfortunate amount is the result of ignorance. A large amount of word abuse is intentional.

Manipulating language for a desired outcome has become an art form in itself. Ad executives, cult leaders, and certain politicians have mastered the abuse of language. Many current politicians have used language to invoke fear in their “followers” so that they will become dependent on their every word.  It breaks my heart to see something as magical as language being abused in this way.

I believe there is a correlation between the rise of the number of words that are publicly shared through social media and the decline in thinking about the significance of each word we emanate. I recall that the 1980s version of me was much more selective about the words I used than the 2000s version of me. During the long distance phone calls to friends and family that I had to pay for, I was aware of the attached value of a certain number of pennies per minute for the words I chose to use. It kept me from rambling about irrelevant things, spouting opinions that nobody asked for, attacking someone for their opinion, or sharing what I made for dinner. I wish people still had to pay for the words they choose to use.

American society is clearly paying a price as people prone to glomming onto other people’s words cling to opposite poles of the political spectrum. From their extreme posts they throw words at the other side and justify it because their favored leaders are doing it. For many, it doesn’t even seem that the meaning of the words matter to them. Because they’re free, words are simply a handy weapon to lob at political and social enemies. I wish everyone could grasp the significance of the gift of language—and the lasting damage caused by abusing it. I wish everyone would recognize the value in supporting politicians who understand the importance of choosing words carefully—and the cost to American society when self-serving words are chosen.

My favorite politicians are the ones who recognize the significance of their words and whose words match proven reality. I have been hoping ever since Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings that Minnesota’s Senator Amy Klobuchar would consider running for the presidency in 2020. I’ve always appreciated Amy Klobuchar as my senator because she works on behalf of every constituent, regardless of background or party affiliation. She is not a scripted politician who spews canned sound bites at every opportunity to appear a certain way. She listens to the words of Minnesotans and does her best to respond to our needs through her role in the legislature. I’m thankful that Amy Klobuchar represents my state, and I’ve often wondered after the Kavanaugh hearings if the country now tends to assume that all Minnesotans have as much integrity as she does. My desire to see Amy Klobuchar become leader of the free world is a result of my awareness that choosing words carefully, honestly, and for the greater good is something that comes naturally to her.

Ever since the hearings last fall, I’ve been fantasizing what it would be like to have a president who grasps the value of honest language and the cost to society when words are misused. A president who listens to the words of others and uses her words to help satisfy the country’s needs. A president from whom demeaning words and covfefe would never flow … The rumor that Senator Amy Klobuchar may announce this weekend her desire to run for the presidency causes me to feel hope for the return of American civility. Putting letters together to spell P-R-E-S-I-D-E-N-T   A-M-Y   K-L-O-B-U-C-H-A-R conveys a wealth of information to me and makes me feel something truly powerful.

 

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© 2019 by Julie Ryan. All rights reserved
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