The Weight of Words

Give love a chance.

If you think I’ve been strangely silent online, you would be right. I could blame it on Real Life (that’s a good scapegoat), or health problems, or logistical stress, but it’s more. Whether Twitter, Facebook, or even this blog, I’ve been slowly backing away from the screen, mainly because of the turmoil associated with the so-called “social” networks. It’s not that I’m not engaged or thinking or even investigating, because I’m all that and more. I see all sides, good, bad, in between. I’ve got a brain; I can process the world around me.

I love my online friends, which is why my heart hurts when I see the rancor being spewed or maybe quietly implied. But words are as weighty as they are diaphanous. As a writer, I see their value, and changing a sentence by replacing words or inserting punctuation changes the tone and meaning of the words. It changes the intent.

Ah, but the Internet. We are but tiny human blobs connected by a network we don’t quite understand. (I know I don’t!) We can’t see the facial expressions of our online friends. We can only imagine. Likewise, words are displayed and splayed and launched with abandon. If you don’t agree, you’re called names or disconnected from “friends.” We all fall in step or we’re discarded. (So much for the social experiment.)

Things I’ve Learned in the Last Few Weeks

My son has an expression he uses. “Too strong.” He’s feeling better in his life, and has a new-found awareness that if he thinks (and writes) the things off the top of his head, he can derive a little (or a lot) of shock value from the general public. And if I make a disapproving comment, he automatically comes back with “Too strong?”

A lot of words are “too strong.” Take “hate” for example. I used to use that term a lot, until my sister-in-law pointed out that I was using the word for everything. “I hate the school district.” “I hate that color.” “I hate when he/she/it does that.” “I hate that I can’t fit into a bikini anymore.”

My kids were little then. I’m pretty sure I wasn’t very successful, but I tried hard to limit my use of that term. Now the only thing I truly hate are liars and cheats, but they deserve to be hated in my world.

The Internet is chock full of words that are too strong. (The F word comes to mind. Why not find an equally strong word(s) that is thoughtful?) You might choose words you don’t really mean, but you use them to elicit emotion. You might even embellish on the words you’ve chosen in order to draw sympathy to your cause. (Believe me, I have done this myself when laying out my own arguments.)

You might even be like an anonymous someone who took a sentence a person (who I do know) said in the public forum and blew a simple opinion harming no one and turned it into an atomic mushroom cloud of despicable innuendo. I know the opposing views were passionate, but the tirade headed toward spite, the kind that threatened safety of family and employment. Had this person gone a bit farther, I might have had to resort to legal action. Just because you imagine something and say it’s so (especially regarding a person you don’t even know) does not make it so.

These are trying times.

One thing my daughter learned this past week: You can’t have an opinion. She’s young, she’s passionate, but last week she took all of her political stickers off her car for fear of “liability.” She did not want the harassment of people calling her loathsome names. (Why a 27 year old would think that, I don’t know. I was definitely not that advanced at that age.) I don’t agree with a lot of what she does and says. Really, now. She’s my daughter. But part of me, the heart of me, felt sick to my stomach when she told me this.

We are still (I hope) a free country. If you can’t have strong opinions, if you don’t feel safe expressing them, then damn it, we’ve lost a freedom. You get to have your opinions, as I get to have mine. As an artist, I need the freedom to think what I want, to put my thoughts into writing or art. Unfortunately, the trend has been heading toward intolerance for a long time – another reason why my stomach hurt. I used to write opinion. I purposely gave it up because some of my opinions weren’t being taken in the humorous light I had intended. I use my real name. I didn’t want to be hunted down and accused of things that aren’t true – or worse.

One happy spot in the last few weeks: Someone left me a Facebook message after reading Virtually Yours. (Talk about an Internet story that sounds so old and dated!) She loved it! If I can make one person happy with my words, it makes up for current buzz of negativity we are living through today.

The takeaway: Choose your words carefully. They’re not casual; they can hurt, even though there may be no intent to do so. And of course, watch what you  post on the Internet, because unlike ice cream and good times and puppy love, the Internet is forever.

Choose to be positive.

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