One of my biggest fascinations has always been with words. The influence they yield; the power we give them. Words can inspire, seduce, build, or destroy. They document history, record the present, and predict the future.
From an early age, I enjoyed writing poetry and stories. In seventh grade, diagraming sentences seemed more like fun than homework. In high school, Latin was one of my stronger subjects, and one of my fondest memories with my father was looking up random words in a dictionary and discovering their origins.
But when you look at words by themselves, are they more than just a group of sounds strung together that people have all agreed upon what those organized noises mean?
The history of when language began is a bit controversial. Researchers have debated its origin anywhere from between 50,000 and 2 million years ago. The popular assumption for why it began was to teach others how to make tools which was both critical for survival and the advancement of the present-day human species.
Modern language has evolved into a complex means of communication, and technology will eventually enable us to understand and communicate in the world’s nearly 6,500 different versions of them. But whatever your native language is, how much importance do you put on the words you say? Are they an indication of who you are? Do they measure your integrity or worth?
One of the ways we measure a person’s character is by observing how well they keep their word. When someone makes a lot of promises yet rarely follows through, we tend not to rely on what they say. Those who generally keep their commitments, we gladly give them our trust.
But for one moment, let’s stop and ask the person staring at us in the mirror how well they keep their word. Have we given any reason for someone to lose trust in us because we have not kept our word? As important as it is for us to trust others, we should hold ourselves to the same, if not to a higher measure. It takes little effort to criticize someone else when they neglect their word, but how swiftly can we justify our own shortcomings or failures?
Keeping our word one hundred percent of the time can be an impossible task. There are legitimate and uncontrollable reasons why this occurs and when it does, hopefully its impact is minimal. If we were to afford other people the same justifications we use for ourselves, it just may steer us in a kinder, more compassionate direction when we interact with others.
Our words often reflect our beliefs and viewpoints. However, those ideas and philosophies stemmed from someone else. We were not born into this world with an established set of principles and convictions. They were influenced by our parents, culture, and education. The more we love and trust someone, the more apt we are to absorb and adopt the ideals they teach and reflect.
As we grow older, we may discover other’s words suggesting a completely contrary outlook to the one we believed infallible. This causes us to reexamine our original beliefs and establish new ones because we recognized a flaw in our mentality. Had we not encountered someone else’s words, we may have kept the same inappropriate perspective.
This change doesn’t mean we’ve gone back on our word but rather it indicates we have grown in our understanding. These are moments to be celebrated and not ones to regret. We’ve realized our previous viewpoint was defective or inconsistent. The ability to admit to our error is a positive change that benefits us – all from hearing other’s words.
The freedom to say whatever you choose has been a topic of global conversation. Over 230 years ago, the Founding Fathers of the U.S. believed in this individual liberty so much that it became the first of the original Ten Amendments to the Constitution. The one thing, however, most people fail to realize is that freedom of speech has limitations. You will be arrested for yelling “Fire” in a crowded theatre. Spreading lies about someone is libelous and both a civil and criminal offense. Not only are there limitations, but more importantly, the words we speak come with responsibilities.
Unfortunately, there is no swift and just punishment when someone abuses their freedom of speech, making it easier to exploit. It also shows us the importance of being careful and prudent in whom we choose to place our trust.
There is so much information that no one has the time to investigate everything and form their own beliefs. We must trust someone’s word to shape an opinion on that subject. We depend on their thoroughness and accuracy. But if we find out their work was based on fabrications or untruths, we can immediately change our opinions on the subject. It is not mandatory to keep your word based on receiving incorrect information.
Those who find themselves in a higher position of authority need to be even more mindful and attentive of their words. When you are chosen to lead yet continue to willingly push lies that mislead, damage, and divide those you were entrusted to lead, it is undoubtedly one of the worst ways to use your words. But believing someone’s lies does not alleviate anyone from the responsibility that damage initiated by supporting or defending their words.
Words are powerful. If keeping our word is the main concern, our focus will be on how we say our words, understanding their limitations, and accepting the responsibility for the results they produce. It is when there is no accountability for the damage our words produce that we use them recklessly and irresponsibly.