Dear Resident

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Dear Resident,

As I sit in my apartment preparing to write my column for this edition of RJ, I can’t help but find myself awestruck by the power of words spoken, written and implied. Especially as I hear them, indoors through the television and radio, next door from my neighbors’ apartments and outdoors from people as they walk, pass or stand in the street.

Only the air that surrounds us is more invasive (involving entry into the body) than the spoken word. And in our community, more often than not, the words being propelled through the air are unpleasant, foul and profane as they have become a part of our everyday vernacular (vocabulary). Profane words used in our daily speech but not necessarily in a profane manner.

Words – children talking as they play, a friend, relative or neighbor calling to another from a window, someone yelling from or at a passing car, a frustrated man or woman yelling profanities at a child or a street full of people, for their entertainment, inciting others to settle their differences by fighting.

The worst, few words, just the sounds that one makes in response to the physical pain of being repeatedly hit, stomped and kicked. The most disturbing, the sound of a small child crying. Something I just heard, “I’m gonna’ throw some alcohol on that b— and set her a- on fire.”

“Beneath the rule of men entirely great, the pen (the written word) is mightier than the sword” is a popular quotation from a play written by an 18th century British playwright. While a sharp instrument may pierce the body, words harsh can pierce the soul.

In the Bible, the Word is said to be alive, exerting power and sharper than any two-edged sword. Words are powerful tools but they can also be a powerful weapon. Words eloquently spoken have been of great benefit to humanity, while words harshly spoken have incited men to war. Our rights are given to us in the form of words but we must be able to understand and interpret those words in order to protect our rights.

Whenever matters need to be settled, from the conflict in the Middle East to a dispute between two small children, it is by means of the spoken word that we reach agreement. The ability to understand words and how to use them increases our ability to understand and function in the world around us. Those of us with limited words are most apt to act out physically as we become frustrated and are unable to communicate by use of words.

I have always understood the value of words. But only recently have I come to appreciate their immense power. In addition to our genetic make-up, words and their understanding can increase not only what we do but what we become. They describe us and our world. They can comfort, soothe and support or hurt, harm and destroy. They can build us up or tear us down.

The words that we communicate to our children, especially when they are young, will shape their minds (the way they think), their hearts (the way they feel) and their spirits (the way they behave) regarding themselves, others and the world around them.

Words can hit as hard as a fist, especially when speaking to a child. Think of the words “ugly,” “stupid,” “dumb,” “fat” or “ignorant.” Words can damage close relationships when spoken in anger. Think of “Shut-up.” “Don’t touch me. “Get away from me.” “Don’t talk to me.” “I can’t stand you.”

The words “I’m sorry” cannot erase damage done. They only indicate remorse for having done the damage. The words we use should be chosen carefully, resisting the urge to use words to the injury of others. My motto is, “Don’t be sorry. Be careful.”

You never know which words will be your last ones. When parting, always let your last words be pleasant ones. Certainly, our first experience is with spoken word. But in addition to speaking and writing words, we must also learn to hear and interpret words.

When we were very young, we listened intently in an effort to experience the world around us. As we grow older, we tend to focus on the words of interest to us. Only when we are cautioned or feel threatened do we become skilled listeners, hanging not only to every word but every sound as well.

Truly, we will speak only as well as we hear. Therefore, we must become skilled listeners, carefully choosing not only the words that we speak but the words that we allow ourselves to hear as well, for they too will become a part of who we are.

If we are fortunate, the written word is introduced to us through reading before we start school. But the most focused word instruction to this date are the words from the school spelling books learned, defined and tested on a weekly basis at the elementary school level. It is of no benefit to know a word if you don’t know what it means. Not knowing the meaning of one word in a sentence or paragraph can prevent you from completely understanding what is being said. No home should be without a dictionary. Encourage children to look-up words that they do not know. As a family activity, select one word a week and use the word in conversation during the week. Also, look up words that you may hear others use in conversation, on the radio and television. It is a great way to increase your children’s vocabulary as well as your own.

Words are also an art form, painted (even on our clothing), spoken in poetry, prose and rap or sang in song giving us pleasure.

And after having given all this thought to word, I could not help but ponder the question, “What one word could possibly make a difference as we attempt to get along with one another in our homes, communities and world?”

“Love” is the first word that came to mind. But after further thought, the one word would have to be “Respect.” “Respect,” as defined by New World Dictionary, is “to show consideration for; avoid intruding upon or interfering with.” But that’s another column. To be continued…

Respectfully,
Pat

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