We all have the right to remain silent. You don’t have to be under arrest to be told that. Many of us are under arrest for one reason or another, and it is, in fact, because we are silent. The thoughts are there; we know what we want and need. But we often don’t use our words, even when we know what they are, because we don’t recognize the power they wield, at least not in ways we yet realize.
It’s perhaps one of the greatest ironies of being a writer that I often forget the true power of words. It’s not just the ones that you read on your phone, skimming through headlines. It’s not just the words you hear from the latest ear worm being played in the department store or on a commercial telling you about something you should buy, but have no use for at all. These words have power, of course, in myriad ways unexpected and sometimes even dangerous. The words that have the most power to us, though, are the ones we think but never say or write, or perhaps most importantly, act upon.
As a writer, I should appreciate the power of words more than your average bear. I mean that in the financial sense; bulls use their words forcefully, while bears use our words to hedge ourselves against risk. I wasn’t always a bear, but I have been for far too long. As a child, I was most certainly a bull, putting my words front and center, often to the dismay of those around me. I thought it was because my words were misunderstood and at times even unwelcome. But that wasn’t really the case; rather, I was proud of my words, while most others around me were ashamed of their own.
While I have rarely gone without writing for long, after a time, the words no longer seem to agree with my thoughts. But again, this is a gross misinterpretation of the truth that should be obvious. Sometimes I use my words simply to lie to myself, and by extension, give others a false impression of the intentions behind my words. No other person do my falsehoods affect more negatively than myself.
I need my words to be helpful; writing them has become a reflex for me out of a need to better understand my own thoughts. At times I have wished desperately someone else will interpret them for me. Yet this happens so rarely and I find myself either entirely alone with them or am told to keep going with the simple advisory that I am onto something.
That something, for the most part, has been to keep busy. My words are plentiful, and say a lot, but perhaps not what I may have intended them to mean. They betray a deeper intention, thoughts I haven’t allowed to fully take form, sometimes because I am afraid of them, and often, because i don’t know what use they will serve. Well, words only serve purpose when they are put to good use. Filling a page with them is not a purpose in itself, for they must be read and fully understood for their power to be truly unleashed.
Alas, I was born into a generation of skimmers. We become so lost in our own thoughts that when we do hear and read the words of others who are known to us, with many different grades of familiarity involved, that we find ourselves just skimming the surface. We do this just to see if we can find words that we can relate to right away, just to know that someone else has the same words floating around disembodied in their own skulls.
We hear so many words in any given day, many of which are spoken by unknown messengers and crafted by entire teams of more unknowns who have unknown intentions. These words from the unknown, spoken through PA systems, our cell phone speakers, and our earbuds, often drown out the words we know best, the ones which reside in our own minds.
My words often direct me in new and unexpected directions. You have words in you, even if you don’t consider yourself any sort of writer, and you are the author of your own destiny. Whether or not you believe in predestination, divinely curated fate, or absolute chaos, your words tell you where you are right now, whether you like it or not.
Sadly, many times these words are bearish, like “I hate my boss” or “I don’t love her anymore.” Even when our words are bullish, they often lead to self-destructive actions, such as “I need to work harder” or “She is really hot, and I must ask her out.” Very rarely do we calmly ponder our current situation and produce balanced, mindful sentences. We should be thinking sentences like, “I am going to mow the lawn today” or “I’m going to ask Amy out for a coffee.” Words that promote specific, positive, forward motion are the best kind.
These words don’t sound like anything prize winning or best seller material. But I hear these sorts of words a lot. Let’s first consider the sentences with the word “hate,” which is a word with nasty connotations, but betrays a certain state of mind. Chances are, you don’t actually hate your boss; you hate his or her actions in relation to your own situation, or how he or she treats others, or how he or she goes about their business.
You may think you don’t love your girlfriend or wife anymore; but believe me, you likely still do, but have forgotten why you fell in love in the first place. Think about your words and really understand what they are telling you, because skimming them doesn’t do them justice. Sometimes, they only make you angrier. But even angry words suggest solutions.
Now let’s consider the bullish words. “I have to work harder” is a phrase that has become so cliche, and it’s actually quite misunderstood. Working harder is rarely a solution in itself; rather, you should work smarter. Yes, this may involve putting more effort forth, but it doesn’t mean working longer or finding more to do. I used to work for days straight with little to no sleep and accomplished next to nothing. Working harder really means finding a better way to do something, and while doing so may take long hours and considerable effort, it’s about being more productive not simply making yourself more busy.
Now one of my favorite phrases: “He/she is really hot, so I need to ask him/her out.” I don’t have to be a relationship counselor or dating guru to tell you that asking someone out just out of the blue is rarely the way to go. Just because someone is “hot” doesn’t make them compatible for you; plenty of life experience speaking on this here. The better option is to get to know him or her through innocent and casual interactions; don’t force anything. If you find common ground, then you can take another step forward.
This is where we get into the words that we need to listen to and act on immediately. “I need to ask Amy (or Adam) out for a coffee today.” I regret not actually doing this more than I have, and can you guess why? It was fear of rejection; yes, I have experienced too much rejection in the past for me to keep asking. But, as with many words we tell ourselves, this doesn’t mean you did anything wrong; on the contrary, you took a forward thinking action, trying to make a human connection. This just wasn’t the right time, or perhaps, even the right person to ask.
Now the seemingly most boring words of all, things like “I am going to mow the lawn today.” You might think, no one wants to hear about me doing something so ordinary and utilitarian. But you would be surprised. They are words of action. If you tell someone this, it will have one of three common reactions: whatever, I’m not doing that, or more commonly than you’d think, that reminds me I have to do that (or something else) today, too.
The interesting thing is that, no matter what reaction you get, most likely you have inspired action in someone else that they may not have taken otherwise. By using words of action, you can inspire action in others by making them consider what actions they are taking themselves.
What words are you thinking right now? What is the one thing that you can’t get out of your head, above all else? Don’t judge these words too harshly; instead, write them down, then ponder what they mean. You might just figure out what to do next. The trick then becomes reframing those words to help you take a particular action.
Your own words always suggest a course of action. Now, embrace the power of your own words; it’s time to figure out what they are telling you.
Related: Success is a Consequence of Your Actions, Not a Coincidence