What are Words Worth?


Quieter than actions or mightier than the sword?

I think we’ve reached a place in human understanding that the words we use, whether they be verbal or written, are one of the most incredibly powerful tools we have at our disposal.

Long gone are the days when we said to our children “sticks and stones may break your bones, but names will never hurt you,” because what a load of old codswallop that was. Of course the sentiment was to show a bully that you were not a victim and didn’t care about the insults, but we all know the emotional pain a well timed taunt, jibe or insult can cause.

I know. I’ve been on the end of verbal bullying and it is damaging. More damaging than a punch in the face ever could be.

In the modern age, internet trolls know the power their words can have. They may appear to be stupid but they are in fact incredibly astute. More astute for the rest of us though, is to ignore them and not give rise to their bait, for they will, undoubtedly  use your words against you.

I myself rarely get involved in heavy discussions on social media platforms or use hashtags too often on Twitter because I know there will always be some vicious troll lurking, ready to attack for no other reason than that they can. How sad their lives must be. Like that of the playground bully. So often themselves the victim with no other way to vent their frustrations other than on some poor, unsuspecting random person. I also don’t get involved at times for I fear my words may hurt someone or even simply be misunderstood and this can be all too easy when you only have 140 characters at your disposal and body language, tone and facial expressions can only be expressed through emoticons or punctuation.

However, the fact remains that words have the power to heal or to destroy; to bring hope or despair; to comfort or irritate. As such we should chose our words, whether in writing or in conversation very carefully.

I have a poster hanging in my classroom which says: “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” I have always been a great believer in this (as far as is practical. I mean when someone cuts me up and crashes into my car I may have a few choice words, but you get the idea.) Simply put, if I have something to say which I know will deeply hurt another person’s feelings, I  keep my trap shut. But why is it, I wonder, do so many people find this hard to do? Why do some people feel the need to directly attack others with their words and vitriol? What do they get from it?

I don’t know. I would kind of like to know. I’d like someone who trolls over the internet to read this and tell the world why they do it and what they get from it, because I cannot fathom it at all.

However, let’s forget the power that vicious, negative words directed at us can wield, as I think this has probably been blogged about in abundance already.

No, instead let us focus on the words we use to be nice to others. The words which we use to make people feel good, to let others know of our kind intentions. The ones we use to show love and care. The words we use to heal, to bring hope, comfort and all the wonderful positive reasons we can use words for. I know what you are thinking. Oh this is going to be a lovely post full of the power of positive words. Er…not quite! Do you not know my cynical side yet?

You see there is a paradox here, because I will straight up say that of all the things which have ever been said to me which have hurt me the most, it has not being the words of bullies or insensitively discarded comments about my four-eyes, my weight, shape, face, arms, thighs (or whatever else others have deemed it okay to negatively comment on) which have hurt and stung me the most.

No, the words which have always had the most powerful effect on me, and the ones which have ultimately caused the most hurt to me, have been the nice words. (Admittedly they are also the words which have caused me the most joy too, but that’s not the direction I’m going in with this, so bear with!) The nice words which were always  given in love and intended in positive spirit, but which, in time have turned out to be platitudes or simply not true. Words, which despite their initial intent, turned out to feel like lies and betrayal.

No truer is this than when relationships end. The bittersweet sting of the words spoken in love can be at times too much to bear and you end up wondering if what was said ever held any weight at all.

“And my words may bind you
To me much too tightly
And you may choke upon them if we fall apart”

As far as actually being in a relationship is concerned…Now call me old fashioned, but I think when you tell someone you love them, for example, it should be because you actually do. Not because you think it’s something the other person wants or needs to hear, or not because they said it to you so you feel you need to say it back so as not to hurt their feelings, or not because you’re not sure quite yet but you might love them one day.  No, that is, for me, the epitome of misuse of words. It is also indicative of the innate power of words can have. These three words, spoken so often, can have the power to heal or destroy more than any others.

One of the reasons I now find it very hard to trust people, and in particular men in romantic relationship situations, or even in potential romantic relationship situations, is because I’ve heard enough false words and platitudes and bullshit to last me a lifetime. I’ve had men tell me they love me, when I know/suspect they don’t. This has usually been after I have tried to end the relationship, unhappy with them because I know, for all their words, (‘I love you’ never been three of them) their actions haven’t matched up. Then I have been sucked back in to another few years of something all because I’ve trusted what they have said, only to kick myself for being so stupid to not believe what my gut, and ultimately their actions, were saying.  I have had men not tell me they love me but act and say and do things and write other words which make it seem as though they do, only for them to suddenly walk out of my life without a by or leave after I apparently meant so much to them. Having found out “I love you” doesn’t always mean much I started to look more to actions and to other words spoken only to have found these to have been as false.

And so yes, I am wary of the people I talk to online at first, as I said in one of  my recent posts. Actually I am wary of people full stop. I am not completely mistrustful, but I am cautious. I am no longer (as a result of seeing people close to me blatantly lie to each other and of having so many lie and cheat their way around me) a naturally trusting person. I used to be, once upon a time, but things, inevitably, change and now I am not so much. Trust has to built up much more these days. Unfortunately, I have always attached too much importance to the words people say to me and this has proven a mistake.

However, I know despite all this, it is important that I do try and trust people and I am still hopeful that not everyone I ever meet will either cheat on me, or let me down, or betray me, or smother me in niceties only to find out actually I meant diddly squat to them in the end. To be put on a pedestal only to be sent crashing back down to the ground is more damaging than the name calling endured on the playground, even if there were five solid years of it. I will try and trust people, but I think I will always retain some caution, both in friendships and relationships, as it is in friendships I have found betrayal too. I wish I could let go of it all a bit more and be completely trusting but I think there is a difference to being closed off completely and not being 100% trustful. I can be a very open person, but I will only open up to people once I am 100% comfortable with them. I guess it is why I can come across as standoffish –  snobbish even. I’m not, I’m just wary.

I have become wary of the words people speak to me because, quite often words are cheap. They are easy to conjure up and use (or misuse) to get what you want in the short term. Like the child who says sorry because they know that word will do a lot to get them out of trouble even if they don’t fully understand the implications of what sorry really means. It is lip service and we all should be wary of paying lip service.

Recently one of my favourite authors, Matt Haig, blogged about how we should be more discerning when writing book reviews. You can find that post here.  I found myself wholeheartedly agreeing with what he was saying although he had had a lot of backlash on Twitter before the blog (which he wrote to justify his tweets. A perfect example of the misunderstanding 140 characters can create). Now, although I don”t believe in being nasty and spiteful, it is perfectly possible to write a critical review without using derogatory words. Paying lip service to authors, or up and coming authors, only gives a false impression and does not help us to hone our craft. If you like something, sing its praises. From the rooftops. Genuinely, do it. If you don’t, then don’t give false praise just so you look like a nice guy.  You don’t need to be mean (if you haven’t anything nice to say don’t say anything at all) but be honest. For goodness sake, be honest. I guess being honest is at the heart of what I’m trying to get to with this post in my usual roundabout, stream of consciousness way. (You’ll notice by the time I reach the end I’ll have contradicted myself at least twice, if not more – as usual. I put it down to being a Libran – trying to keep a balanced viewpoint, though do I believe in all that astrological nonsense, ah well that’s a debate for another day!)

Anyway, simply:

Don’t tell people you love them if you don’t.

Don’t tell people their book is the best thing since sliced bread if it’s not.

Don’t use your words in such a manner as a quick way to get what you want at the expense of other’s feelings.

For me, actions do speak louder than words. I am a writer and despite my love of words (they can and do create magic in fiction) I still believe this is to be true. The spoken word can be too easily thrown up and thrown away without a second thought, in anger or in the heat of passion, or because our mind is occupied elsewhere and we say the easiest or first thing which pops into our head. And the written word can easily be contrived and thought about in order to meet an agenda and, therefore I’d argue can words always be trusted?

Actions on the other hand. Actions quite often involve far more effort. People are, generally, lazy and inherently most of us are quite selfish and do what we want to do. For ourselves. We put ourselves first and if we say we do otherwise, well then we are using our own words to lie to ourselves. As a result I trust a person’s actions more than their words. I trust my own actions more than my words. There’s irony for someone who blogs a lot, espousing all sorts of views. How will any of you ever trust anything I ever write again now? (*Evil laugh!)

To conclude this ramble: 

Studies show 55% of our communication is non-verbal. This proportion alters dramatically on social networking where near enough 100% is though the written word. (I say near enough as we use photos too.)

In these fast changing social times, we should do well to remember that, whatever our feelings about the power of words, we should all choose them more wisely than ever before.

Thanks, as always, for reading. 🙂






Filed under General Rambliings, Writing

11 responses to “What are Words Worth?

  1. What a wonderful post Hun!
    I was bullied severely for years growing up physically and mentally and seeing the way these trolls act on social media is just disgusting!
    The other thing I really don’t like is this whole ‘subtweeting’ craze, I didn’t even know what it meant! But seeing people indirectly using words to hurt or get a reaction is really sad and cruel!
    I always say I’d rather have you tell me to my face then do it behind my back.
    I never really realised but twitter can be rather dramatic at times, and I stay as far away from that as possible!
    Don’t get me wrong there’s been times I’ve had to bite my tongue, but it’s not worth it!
    It annoys and saddens me that some people ‘think’ they know someone or feel the need to comment when they really know very little at all!
    You always have such a great voice on things JB, bravo! 🙂

    • Thank you, lovely.Oh subtweeting! I’ve heard of it but seriously that’s just passive aggressive nonsense! Like you say if you feel the need to speak, say it to the person if there is a reason for saying what you are saying, but just hurling insults…gosh I have seen that and just why? Why be so aggressive?

      • I know!!! People have big balls behind a screen! But yes it just spoils it for the rest of us, there is no need to be aggressive at all! Plus people take things far too seriously these days! :/

  2. This was another great post, Joanne, and I particularly appreciated the section regarding Matt Haig’s observations. I have noticed too, given the volume of writers that I follow on Twitter, an almost constant stream of “5/5 stars to XXXXX!!!!!” (with that many exclamation points, usually.) And I too get wary – I am a great supporter of the notion of pouring a stream of positivity into a medium that is often drowning in snark – but these books can’t all be heartbreaking works of staggering genius, can they? And it really does the author no good to have their heads inflated over writing that may very well be seriously flawed, or worse, just dull. Support your friends and fellow writers, but as you say, be honest about it. I feel this applies even to blog posts – while one may sometimes wonder why one post gets a bunch of likes and comments and another goes ignored, the truth is that not everything connects with everyone, and to expect otherwise is to fall into that trap of a bunch of smiling idiots sitting in a circle yelling “You’re awesome!” “No, you’re awesome!” “No, you’re more awesome!” to the nausea of all within earshot. And ultimately accomplishing nothing.

    I would say that the best lesson in keeping with the theme of your post is to heighten the value of one’s words by ensuring that they are used sparingly in the service of truth, not littered about so as to create the impression that they are disposable.

    • Oh, haha! So much of your comment made me laugh (well the smiling idiots part!)
      I wish when I was writing these posts I had a Graham Milne app I could access which would articulate what I think into a more coherent way! Yes! We cannot connect with everything everyone writes and I apply this to blog posts as much as anything else. I think people know me well enough now to know that if I really like what you’ve written I will take the time to comment. I will be supportive to my friends by tweeting or retweeting but there will be times what they have written just doesn’t speak to me. It’s not personal. I certainly don’t expect everyone to enjoy/connect with what I write. (Mainly because it’s just my thoughts spewed out on a page!)

      Yes, sincerity and integrity are key I think. To try and sum up in two words!

      But thank you for your wonderful comments.You’re awesome!! (see what I did there?! Haha, no but really you are!) Glad it resonated with you. 🙂

  3. Dee Lancaster

    Once again, you’ve used your words wisely.

  4. I wonder Joanne if you’re blaming words when the guilty party is actually human nature? Otherwise, I share your contempt for platitude and would add political rhetoric to that category myself. An enjoyable article – nice work.

    • Oh not ‘blaming’ words at all Mike, anymore than I’d blame a gun for shooting someone. We humans are in control of our words not the other way round.
      Thank you for reading and commenting. Glad you enjoyed. 🙂 And, yes. I agree with you on the point of political rhetoric. Such a point would have fitted well here.

  5. “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.”

    These were words my mother used often as she raised me when i was a child a long, long time ago. Most of the time, they are good words to live by.

  6. Pingback: Talk Talk | Writes of Passage

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s