Monday, April 26, 2010

Why You Should Care About the Words You Share

As a poet, much of my time is spent searching for the perfect word—le mot juste. There are reasons for this, that go beyond wanting to create something pleasurable or even beautiful. It’s because words have power. They can change the way we see the world. They can change the way we relate to one another. They can create meaning or destroy it, instantly, and sometimes thoughtlessly. They open our eyes and challenge our understanding in the deepest, most powerful way.

Don’t believe me? Just look through the pages of any history book and you’ll see, at the heart of any major historical event (minor one too), is a powerful speaker rallying people, for good or evil, towards a shared goal. Look through the pages of any advertisement critically, and you’ll begin to see the motivational messages that drive people to put their hands into their pockets. There are all sorts of ways to influence people, but words are always the key. Words create images which build expectation, emotion, impressions, and ultimately action. So choosing the right word is important, and not just for poets, though poetry goes into the heart of humanity and winkles out all those little shiny bits you’d missed, forgotten, lost. If you allow yourself to live only in easy cliché, letting the advertisements, catch-phrases, and trite sentiments slip easily from your tongue in conversation, you may find that you don’t end up saying much at all. Your perceptions dull. Because you aren’t trying too hard, you don’t make connections with people in the same way, and nothing really sparkles.

Try looking just a little harder. Even casually, you can move beyond “fine” when someone asks how you are. Try the truth. And then give them time to speak the truth in response, and really listen to what they’re saying, and before you know it, you’re communicating. That’s something real, and special. Next time you’re writing (or better, making) a greeting card for someone, trying saying something to them that really encapsulates what you feel about them—something fresh and deep, or light and fun, but something that no one else can say, because it has come from your own individual years of experience, your own emotions, and your own unique perspective of that person. That’s a gift you can’t buy.

Of course not everyone’s a poet, and not everyone has a way with words, but there is plenty of poetry on offer, and poets ready to force you, willing or unwilling, to look at your own life and the lives of those around you in different ways--to close in and see things from a perspective you’ve never seen, or to open out and grasp the totality of an experience in ways that change you. Real, deep, thoughtful words—the words of poetry—are as vital now as ever, and not just for formal occasions. Words form a critical link between us—a critical bridge to ourselves—that exists beyond the quick and easy media grabs and sloppy exchanges that surround us. We should care about the words we share. We should share words that matter.

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