By Emily Lacy (@emstheticket)
In expressing ourselves to others, there might not be anything more important than words. We created them so we could literally voice our thoughts and feelings to one another. In a world of grammar police, 140-character text boxes and posts that only count if others take notice, it is very easy for us to forget the meaning, value and impact of our words.
As communicators, we are in the public eye. Most of the time it doesn’t immediately seem that way, especially in the digital age. We type out what sounds right or funny or buzz-worthy in the moment. We want to get noticed, and most of the time it is our job to do so. Often, our words come through the mouths of our clients or companies, or only live beside the static profile pictures we choose for ourselves; however, we can not and should not escape the fact that, as communicators, hundreds, if not thousands or millions, see what we write and say every day.
Words can inspire or bring joy. Words can motivate and entice. Words can express ideas that have never seen the light of day. But there is a dark side to words. They can really hurt.
Recently, Ann Coulter posted a tweet referring to President Barack Obama as a “retard.” As Coulter is a well-known conservative who is often in the media and, frankly, offensive in her choice of words and social media updates, that she said such a thing wasn’t necessarily a surprise. That’s a shame.
What was a surprise, and a delight, is the eloquent and uplifting response she received from John Franklin Stephens, a Special Olympics athlete and spokesperson. By now, you have most likely had the pleasure of reading his open letter to Coulter. If not, I’d love for you to do so now. It is a humbling read for us all and a wonderful charge to open our hearts and take a stance against those who cast their words and thoughts idly.
In honor of John Franklin Stephens, let’s take a look at a few times words of discrimination or division have been drowned out or challenged by words of inspiration, encouragement or love:
1. It Gets Better Project – This project was created by Dan Savage and his husband Terry Miller in response to the suicides of teens who were bullied because they were gay. Through the project, millions of gay adults have bound together to spread the message of hope to LGBT youth that their lives will get better. For a quick overview, visit their YouTube channel or watch this video. The messages are incredibly uplifting.
2. Secret Deodorant’s Mean Stinks – Mean Stinks is a multi-year project by Secret Deodorant to end girl-to-girl bullying. This year’s spokesperson, Demi Lovato, is asking girls to “Gang Up for Good,” and the movement encourages girls to take the Mean Stinks pinky swear to keep bullying out of their group of friends. This is a great effort for a brand that has face time with girls during one of the most vulnerable periods of their lives.
3. Ashley Judd’s statement on the constant conversation about women’s bodies – Back in April, Ashley Judd used the media buzz over her allegedly “puffy” appearance to call out and take a stand against the constant and insidious assault on body image and the hyper-sexualization of girls and women, among other things. Her intelligent and direct statement packs a punch.
5. Jim Henson Company’s response to Chick-fil-A – When Chick-fil-A’s president took a public stance against gay marriage, the Jim Henson Company severed their partnership with the fast food chain. Not only did they put a stop to the selling of their Creature Shop toys at Chick-fil-A, the company posted a statement to their Facebook page in support of gay marriage and donated the payment they’d received from Chick-fil-A to GLAAD, the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation.
4.Martin Luther King, Jr. – This man’s contribution to our world, through his words and otherwise, needs no description or introduction. He is a shining example of someone who spoke messages of hope and love in response to hatred. If you ever question whether or not your positive words have a great power to drown out negative ones, re-listen to his I Have a Dream speech and change your perspective.
If you’d like to identify your place as one who crafts words in this world, look to examples like these. So often, under the guise of professionalism, we do not use our words, the power we wield, to stand up to those who use their words to cause others harm.
When my colleague, Jennifer Lucado, alerted me and other co-workers to Stephens’ open letter to Coulter, she said this: “We spend our days working with words; we understand better than anyone the power they hold.”
As those who work in communication, we have the power she talks about. We have the power to spread ideas and the power to choose whether the ideas we propagate are destructive and hurtful, or kind, loving, and encouraging. Recognize the power of your words and use them with wisdom and the utmost care. Your fellow human beings are counting on it.
Images courtesy of Yahoo!, Special Olympics Virginia, LCSC.edu