The Terrible Responsibility of Words

Pamela Hill NettletonBlogLeave a Comment

I am a writer, and words are my tools and my inspiration, my craft and my medium.

Still, I do not always know what it is that I think about an issue or a person or a value until I am pressed to speak, and must pause and try to put those ideas into language. Oh, I have a sense about my beliefs and feelings—I have an awareness of what matters to me and how I feel about what matters to others. But it is not until I am forced to transmute those ephemeral wisps of thought into concrete, specific, vivid, precise language that I truly come to know myself and understand what it is that I want to say to the world—how it is that I want to be in the world.

Language forces us to sift through the shades and shadows of possible meaning to select the single most perfect assemblage of syllables and connotations and then to offer it as a gift of communication to another human being. Language is proof of all that we mean to one another. If we were not longing for connection with each other, there would be no need for language. Language is our yearning to understand and be understood, to question and to answer, to call and to respond.

Yes, words can start wars. Words can kill love. Words cannot break your bones like sticks and stones, but words can hurt. But words can also beg for forgiveness. Words can forgive. The right words can make the world a better place. Words can travel from your mind to mine with an idea, plant thoughts that I may never have had before, and change my life forever.

Language is a terrible responsibility. Long after words are spoken, they hang there in the air, able to hurt—or heal—again, and again, and again. Language is heard long after the speaker has left the room. Language lives on.


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