words matter

I’ve been thinking a lot about words. Of course I always am, but lately I’ve been thinking about how devalued words are these days, how ignored and slighted and spat-upon. And I’ve decided that it’s a problem of acute market disequilibrium.

See, I took (and almost failed) exactly one economics course in college, and I remember exactly one significant concept: supply and demand! Yes! I learned that! The more stuff there is around to sell, THE LESS PEOPLE ARE WILLING TO PAY FOR IT. And if you really start to flood the market with the stuff? They’ll be willing to pay even less. They will laugh in your face at its wretched undesirability.  They will decide to buy little piles of beaver dung wrapped up as party favors instead. In other words, THEY WILL TOTALLY STOP GIVING A SHIT ABOUT YOUR STUFF. plunger

This is where we are with words. There’s a glut. They’re everywhere all around us all the time, and we bat at them like gnats. No one takes them seriously any longer in this post-truth, post-knowledge, post-learning, post-evidence, post-reality age. We are living in a new and strange dimension where facts are dismissed as beside the fact, where tweets blat and rage, where fake news gets shared reflexively while real news struggles for a hearing. Truths are now transient. Challenged, they shimmer into nothingness. They and the words that express them no longer matter as they once did.

This is what I have to say about that: Words matter. Words are real. Words have weight. Words spring from the mind, enter the world and linger there, changing us. Spoken, they alter the speaker and listener both. Written, they bridge miles of earth and understanding between writer and reader, building fortresses of imagination no less tangible for lacking mass. Words create and destroy. Words spark love, sow hate, stir resentment, inspire hope, instill fear. Words hold power, bearing the authority and currency of poets and prophets and God. In the beginning was the Word, yes? I read that somewhere. But what about the end? Where will words be then?

Words build nations. Sway nations. Fell them.

It’s words that got us into this crazy mess, and words will get us out. But ONLY IF WE TAKE THEM SERIOUSLY.  Only if we value them. Only if we stop treating them like some party-size bag of cheapo tortilla chips that we bought at Wal-Mart that day and then stuffed into The Cabinet of Neglect (which every kitchen has) and never thought of again, much less ate.

Just to prevent the punsters among us from going there first, no, I’m not suggesting that we eat our words. But I am suggesting that we treat them with a little more respect. Listen to them. Weigh them. Hold them for a moment in our palm and consider their heft. If they’re hollow and shallow and convey only lies, we discard them. If they bear truths – even unwanted truths, even the hardest and most painful to grasp – we must tighten our grip and carry them to safety. We owe it to them, and to ourselves.

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