Words are powerful things. Have you ever had any of these phrases directed at you?
Are you sitting down?
I love you
Just hearing any one of these can send all kinds of emotions running through the body.
So it is no doubt that having something said to you that is cruel is going to have an impact. Words have power. Both the words we say to ourselves and the words we use with other people. However, the impact of the phrases above is somewhat lessened if you over hear them. That is, when they are not directed at you but at someone else, perhaps a stranger. They may still touch you or disturb you, but the impact is less.
Now often such words are not directives, but are in stories located out of time. They may be horrific or inspiring, but they relate to a situation in the imagination or remembered rather than requiring an immediate response. Say recalling an event, or scenario-planning. This ability to ponder, reflect, imagine, is a marvelous thing. To think about things ahead of time and learn from past mistakes is perhaps one of Homo sapiens true gifts. It is in such reflections that we can plan actions, better ourselves and transform guilt and remorse into positive change. Without such ruminations, we are doomed to not only repeat our mistakes, but to put a drastic limit on our ability to adapt.
While we can think about things without acting, we are able to reflect on and make decisions that hopefully serve us best. We think about things before we act on them. The words help us shape our actions, but they do not equal action itself. Even if the words describe something horrible – you only need read a horror story to notice the difference between words and reality. Yes words have power, but they are not the same as actions.
The flurry of controversy surrounding Liam Neeson’s recall of a shameful moment in his life stands as an example of collapse between ideation and action. In fact, it is why his remarks are so harrowing – because we know words and thoughts DO lead to actions. And unfortunately, such racist sentiments still exist in the world today. Fortunately, in Liams case, words and thoughts do not always lead to actions – for which we can all be grateful!
To attack him for raising the issue is to miss the point entirely. There is no doubt it was shameful what he thought about doing, but if such thoughts didn’t exist, neither would racism. And if start shutting down people’s ability to talk about such things, to reflect learn and ponder – to imagine futures, we shut down our ability to think. Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech would not only have been non-sensical it would have been futile. But thankfully again it wasn’t. Words have power and should be treated as such. And so should free-thinking – for without it, we cannot create a better world. That, I believe, is what Liam was trying to do and for that we should applaud him. Thanks to John Barnes for saying so.
Now I hope we can give as much energy to looking after injustices that actually happen, not ones that haven’t…