An interesting development in this modern age, when screens dominate so much of our time, is that words seem to matter more than ever. Almost every day there is a news article about what someone has said and how it has affected someone else. Some argue that what we need is straight-talking, we all should be able to say exactly what we feel when we feel it and political correctness should be a relic of an earlier, more sensitive time. Then there are those who jump to conclusions and take offense not just for themselves but for whatever group they feel has been maligned. Myself, I probably fall into the latter camp. I am a proponent for free speech in all of its forms, but I think we could all benefit from remembering that our words, even if we are not famous, have a reach far beyond anything we can fully comprehend. When we post on social media, our words go out to our friends and family, and they often reach friends of friends and family of family. Not only that, but the words are there forever. You can apologize for them, you can claim you mis-typed or mis-spoke or were mis-quoted, but the words can never really be erased. They have become a part of the eternal record of mankind.
I’m a proponent of most technological advances, but I have to admit, I’m getting pretty tired of all of the words. And not just the words, but the analysis and over-analysis of the words. Or, maybe, I’m just tired of not having more words. What we get are sound bytes, an encapsulation of a person based on the ten words they said that got repeated and shared and analyzed. In the past, if you spoke without thinking, you were usually speaking to an audience that knew you. They knew that although you tended to speak badly of cute, cuddly kittens, you had saved the neighbor’s cat from a dog attack. Or they knew that you made the best chili in ten states. They had context. And what we lack today is context. When all we know of someone is their ill-advised posts on Facebook or Twitter, we can form an opinion of them that is almost certainly incorrect. In my opinion, and this may not be popular, celebrities were a lot more likeable when they had handlers who advised them on what to say and how to act in public. I am not a person who looks at the past and prefers it to the present, I think modernity is awesome. I’m glad to live in an age when women can go to college and pursue a career and vote, and I’m a fan of technology. I just think we all might feel a little less angry and touchy if we all gave our words a bit of thought before we sent them out into cyberspace.
Here are some guidelines I think would help us all, celebrities and regular people alike:
- Write down your words on paper and set them aside for a day. If after a day you look at them and still feel that you would be happy with the world seeing those words, proceed to step 2.
- If you are writing or speaking about an issue, do you actually know what you are talking about? Have you read articles or books on the topic from at least two reputable sources, or are you basing your views on hearsay and/or articles from sources just as biased as you are.
- Imagine that the person reading/hearing your words is your sweet grandmother. I don’t mean that literally, I mean, if you are writing words that in any way suggest you are annoyed with cat haters, imagine that there are cat haters in your audience and that they have a good reason for their cat hate and be kind and gentle. Do not say all cat haters are evil and should be shot on sight, because you will lose friends and you may get a letter from the cat haters lobby.
- Imagine your audience is the world. You are not talking with a group of friends who know you, you are blasting your words to the world. Represent yourself well and help the world we see on our screens to look less like a middle school lunch room and more like a tolerant, civilized, adult world.