Words have meaning. They have power. With them, worlds can be created or destroyed. And so can the humans within those worlds.
When my third son was three, he began to bring up death-and-dying subjects. A lot. It was a bit out of the blue, I thought, though it wasn’t overly concerning to me. Yet. One day he asked when I would die. Another day he asked me if I was going to hold his baby brother when he died. It all became clear to me when he posed this question: “So, after Easter, then we’ll die?” He asked so honestly and openly, without any sign of concern. And it hit me. For the past couple of weeks we’d been talking about dying eggs for Easter. He had been hearing our words and making his own interpretations based on his knowledge experience. He knew about death. He didn’t know about this holiday tradition. Feeling horrible, I explained that we meant we would color eggs for Easter, and that none of us were going to actually die.
We come into situations carrying our past. Simple words can morph into an entirely different context, based on whatever we’ve faced in life. This is why it is so important to slow down and really understand what is being said. To understand the intent as well as the message, before responding. It’s easy to feel defensive, belligerent, or hurt. It’s easy to hold onto past grievances and form grudges. It’s easy to act on those feelings. But what if we took the time to find out where the other person is coming from? What if we could separate our prejudices and preconceived ideas from the person standing in front of us, and base our communication within the context of “now” balanced against the knowledge of “before”?
We have so many words thrown at us over social media, within news platforms, from political persona, sports players, movie stars, and the average Mary and Joe. Everyone believing in their own story, and wanting all of us to follow their lead. Well … what is the reality? Isn’t it always more than one-sided? When we don’t question the source, when we don’t know the intent, when we make assumptions, we are missing an opportunity. With understanding and knowledge, we can break through biases and fears.
Taking the time to listen and understand doesn’t mean we have to agree with one another. It just means we don’t get to jump to conclusions and be mean to each other. Using our words to build our relationships and add more truth and hope to each other’s stories will strengthen our communities. With stronger communities, we have hope for a peaceful and respectful coexistence. One where people can live fearlessly, dream endlessly, grow exponentially, and love absolutely. Regardless of backstory. Regardless of disagreements. Regardless of differences.
Take the time to listen. Words matter. The humans behind the words matter. And sometimes all it takes is understanding to change death to life.