Words Build Stuff Between Us

Words destroy stuff we’ve built

We all know this, don’t we? It’s perfectly obvious.

If words were money (words are definitely not money), we would be aware of our spending to inform or persuade or entertain. And just like people who make a hobby of “going shopping,” spending our word budget every day would be just another normal piece of everyday life for a U.S. citizen (or “consumer,” as business has renamed humans).

And that is how words work: We spend them.

With words, we buy influence. We give some bit of knowledge or direction to someone else and win something in return. Some bit of psychic collateral. With words, we buy context: we proclaim this or that in response to a situation at home or work. Sometimes those around us agree with our context-setting assessment. Sometimes they don’t. Hint: if you want more people to agree with you, become the boss. Authority has a way of bringing believability with it, whether or not it is earned.

Use words responsibly

How we spend our words is worth considering. For many of us, conversations seem instinctual. We say this in response to that. We inform, persuade, and entertain with a joke. We do most of this without making conscious choices about our wordly-intentions.

But what if we did think of how we spend our words? What if we invested our words in accomplishing some end? What if we infused our words with meaning, voicing thoughts pulled from the well of what matters to us? That would make us vulnerable, of course. It would also be a platform for growth. Because when we say what is important, we learn something about ourselves, and a meaningful conversation can often follow. The kind of conversation that has a chance of touching us deeply.

Altered narratives

I highly recommend reading Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me) to learn more about the power words can wield. The media frequently referenced authors Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson’s point about cognitive dissonance in the mid-2010s—after whistleblowers discovered the Rolling Stone article on rape at the University of Virginia and news reader Brian Williams altered their stories beyond anything resembling truth.

Tavris and Aronson talk about how we have such a hard time living with ourselves when our inconsistencies and personal malpractices appear. Instead of processing challenging events, we simply change the story to coddle our precious psyches. The authors also demonstrate how memory gets built and rebuilt as we change stories:

Memories create our stories, but our stories also create our memories. Once we have a narrative, we shape our memories to fit into it.

–Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson, Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me), (Orlando: Harcourt, Inc, 2007) 77

Words can construct, not destroy

I am advocating for the conscious use of words infused with what matters to us. I see this as the opposite of small talk. However, I acknowledge that small talk is the precursor to big talk.

In my dream world, we use words to constantly build stuff between us rather than destroying relationships by purposely misunderstanding and showing we are better/righter/fitter/stronger/groovier.


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