They are wrong. Words can kill you.
Words are powerful. They shape our perception of the world around us. A single word can make us feel sad, mad, happy, or dissatisfied. Sometimes the words of others can pierce our heart like a sword. Words can wound. Some of those wounds we never really recover from.
With the skill of an artisan weaver, politicians, religious leaders, media, friends, family and our own minds, can weave words together that dramatically affect how we see another person or people group. Or how we see ourselves.
The delusional words of fanatics have led to some of the greatest crimes against humanity. While the words of wisdom of a young woman, shot in the head by her enemies, can mesmerise a room of powerful world leaders.
The words of artists can tap into our souls like no other. The gift of poets and lyricists amongst us help us express our deepest fears, prejudice, and longings.
Words are never expressed in a vacuum. And when the context of jokes and jests are made in a social atmosphere that is charged with violence, tension, or trauma, these words cannot, must not, be ignored.
The Orlando massacre was not simply a deranged man killing the innocent. It is the action of a man living in a world filled with many words of hatred, religious elitism, prejudice and ignorance, towards those who are deemed as ‘other’.
The words of a mob mocking an Australian Indigenous footballer are not heard or made in a void. Rather, they are a declaration in a historical context of racism, violence, genocide, and wounding.
The words of jest about killing a woman are not made from a position of non-violence. They often come from the mouths of the privileged, made in the context of a growing body-count of women killed, or maimed, as a result of violence.
The words of disdain towards those who choose not to eat the flesh of animals are not heard or absorbed by people who have not seen suffering. Rather, from a place where human hearts are broken as we bear witness to the horrific reality of abuse and cruelty towards our gentle earthling friends.
Words can wreck lives. There are so many words I wish I hadn’t said. So many words I can never take back. So many words that were just the product of internal strife, anger, ignorance, arrogance, or presumption.
If we want to be proud supporters of Freedom of Speech, then we should also hold a compulsory license of compassion and understanding.
If we view any curtailing of ‘free speech’ as an imposition or even ‘persecution’ by the ‘tolerance police’ then perhaps we should also consider that the words spoken from positions of power and influence, that marginalise or slander others, can be viewed as a form of bigotry and hatred.
Perhaps our very word-filled world needs to take breaths of silence? Imagine if we used that silence to walk in the shoes of another, to feel their pain, their heartache …
Sticks and Stones may break your bones but Words … ?
Words are thrown at you every day. Please know that you do not owe them your homage.
And words are also given to you, dear friend. Consider how you use them in our vulnerable world.