Playwright Tom Stoppard said, “Words are sacred. They deserve respect. If you get the right ones, in the right order, you can nudge the world a little.”
I am old enough to be amazed by social media, with its multitude of words and pictures. It did not exist when I was new. If we wanted enlightenment, we went to the library or read the Post. By the time we found our information, the events were already in the past. We knew people of different cultures existed, and events happened, but it was knowledge that came at a distance, blurred by its time-consuming transformation into letters and pictures.
When we curious children wanted to see what a woman looked like without her clothes, we stole our parent’s National Geographic and leafed through it for pictures of deepest Africa. Kennedy and Lennon were shot, but there were no cell phone videos or instant interviews. The stories unfolded over weeks, with time to adjust and get a little distance.
Social media now comes with immediacy and savage intensity. People’s lives are flayed open and placed on the screen for my perusal. If I presume to know anything about that woman in Africa, she can knock me upside the head minutes later, because she is in reality just a hairsbreadth away. If I pretend to wisdom, the whole world can judge me and let me know where they think are my errors in judgement.
This brilliant transparency should make us more authentic, more determined to write nothing that we would not stand behind to our deaths. We should claim our words without reservation. These words. are. me. Sadly, from a place of weakness and fear it can instead make us deny what we know, as we buffer our truth so as not to be responsible for it.
We write, “Tweets do not replace medical advice, retweets are not to be considered an endorsement.” We backtrack, and pad ourselves against risk. The most powerful thing we can do – put our thoughts into words for other people to see – we disclaim and weaken with “tweets are not meant to be advice.”
Of course they are! What would be the point, otherwise?
If we give thought to and write words down then they need to be true. Words are sacred. We record our words in the hopes that they will “nudge the world a little.” If our words are our truth then they have earned our faith: we have to stand behind them with our names and our identities.
Weakening our words by buying into a fear of lawsuits and judgement is a betrayal of our selves; it costs us a piece of our souls. Our words are us and denying them, even in a small part, allows decay to eat away at our own value.
Conversely, since we wrote those words with our very own minds and hands we should never, in the rush to say something, write down what we know is not truth: those words will also follow us through our lives. People sometimes feel that they can be nasty, petty, or judgmental on the internet because they are anonymous. They can twist the facts just a little to make their point. We must realize that there is no such thing as true anonymity. Even if no one else ever knows who wrote those words, you yourself do.
Persian poet Hafez wrote, “The words you speak become the house you live in.” Write only words that have a strong foundation and the solidity of truth, so that your house is yours alone and can hold up to the hurricane force winds of opinion. Hafez’s words are as true on the internet today as they were in the fourteenth century in ink on paper. Such is the power of words. Believe in them, and in your self.