Tuesday, April 19, 2011

They're just words—or are they?

Today, a young woman left a very thoughtful and thought-provoking comment in an earlier post on rose-colored glasses.
...I love writing and reading but at this stage of my life it really doesn't do anything to ease the injustices of global issues such as famine and poverty. Which is the same for everyone with creative pursuits (and often non-creative too)!  
I'm even considering giving up studying philosophy and literature to do something to help the world more directly, like somehow defending human rights without becoming a lawyer! 

Serendipitously, a friend of mine posted a link on Facebook that led me to discover this video.

When you watched it, did you notice the woman didn't give the blind beggar any coins? She has a gift for words, and she knew how to meet his need with it. She rewrote the man's sign, putting it in terms that pierced the consciences of passers-by and awakened appreciation for the sight they have that he does not.

"It's a beautiful day, and I can't see it."

That's what moved people and unclogged an outpouring of generosity. Did it cost the woman anything? Not in cents, but in the time she took to prepare her gift for that moment in time. Even when she had no way of knowing that one day she could be useful in just that way.

As a child I scoffed at "Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me." Sure they did! A lot! They weren't "just" words. They got me in trouble. Still do. (In my dotage, of course, I realize that the sticks-and-stones strategy was meant to insulate a child from taunting meanies/older siblings picking on you. Not that it ever worked for me.)

I have this reverence for healthy fear of words. It's not unlike the respect a snake charmer has for the coiled critter. Maybe it's part of why I reserve my cussing for crisis-level situations. I hate to waste a crispy "FUCK!" when a soft-boiled "damn" will serve just fine. I can never figure out why my daughter (and a few friends) bust out laughing when I cuss. I think it's because I'm not very convincing, having had little practice.
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I'm writing this post in snatches of time. Every time my giant orange rescue cat dozes off, I snip off another chunk of his long, matted fur. He's been stressed by tummy troubles lately, and the matting is uncharacteristic but symptomatic.

I committed to this furry child five years ago. I cannot adopt every abandoned stray that shows up on my porch. But it's in my power to protect, love and make a difference in this one's life. The world has one less neglected cat.

When you're young and finding your place in life, the world seems gigantic and "out there." You doubt your power. You are unsure of its reach and its very existence—particularly when you're transitioning between your identity as a student and a so-called productive citizen. By the time you reach the middle of your life, the world, and your mark on it, will hopefully have become more defined. Your influence on the world is as much about the abstract concept of giving aid to victims of natural disasters half a world away as it is the squelched urge to flip off a driver who cuts you off. One less road rage incident. One act of sacrificial generosity, one act of self-control. They add up.

There are countless other ways one individual can conquer what plagues all of humankind, the animals we share the planet with, and the earth itself.

Raise awareness. Pray. Speak encouragement. Nurture yourself so you have the resources to take care of others. Fight your inner demons—daily, if you must, to be free to fight the demons external to you. And yes, WRITE.

I'm all for choosing a path based on how much it can help the world. But I've read far too many comments from people burned out from social work and similar helping professions. There is more wisdom in selecting a path that uses your gifts, as long as those gifts recharge rather than drain you. We are accountable not for everything that is wrong in the world, but for anything we can and are willing to do to brighten the world.

Raise awareness—of the sources of joy. Pray—in gratitude. Speak encouragement. Nurture yourself so you can by example teach others to nurture themselves instead of leeching out everyone else's joy. When you fight your inner demons, remember to leave time to dance with your inner pixies. And yes, for heaven's sake and the world's, WRITE.


  1. This is such an inspiring post, on so many levels. I can hear it being read during a spiritual retreat, or a writing workshop, or even over the radio - in snatches, between commercial breaks. Good job!

  2. Thanks, Locke! I find it ironic that this post took me no effort to write, whereas in my 10 years of writing Commencement speeches to usher college grads out to the world, I had to "preach from a dry well." It's a sign! I am over my writer's burnout. Another reason to be grateful.

  3. This is such a powerful, motivating post. Thank you. I love the story of the woman helping the blind man by rewording his sign. So often we feel helpless because we cannot donate (be it money or sometimes time) and we forget that there are so many other ways we can actually make a difference.
    Your post helps gives a few ideas to us. Again, thank you!

  4. Meryl, at the risk of sounding cliché-ish, "No, no, thank YOU!" Readers like you who leave thoughtful comments motivate me to raise the bar in my writing.

  5. Hello! I really enjoyed this post (and thanks again for visiting my blog!) - it's a good reminder for me to reach out to others organically, without prejudice or bowing to social pressure. It's also a wonderful reminder of the healing power of the well chosen word.

  6. Well put, Isabelle. I enjoy your posts immensely. Glad you visited!

  7. I LOVE LOVE LOVE the entire piece, but particularly your last two sentences! So timely for me...thank you.

  8. Ooh, Joy, I was over at Catharsis and gobbled up your post on our reluctance to change course even when all the signs are there to do so. Absolutely true!

  9. I feel honoured to be quoted in such a post! I'd love to influence people by becoming a writer, it's just getting the platform to do so and earning the right to have people listen to you which is tricky.
    But you're right, at the end of the day if you want to change the world you should use the resources you have and do it your own way by utilising your own talents and loves!

  10. Words can heal or destroy...Yours are clearly healing!

  11. Stopping by again to give you another award....You're too awesome not to be mentioned :-)----


  12. Myblik, you've earned my ear by how well you write. I am excited to watch your influence grow as you chronicle your own growth.

    Muriel, I wield a double-edged sword, it seems. I have amends to make for the times when I cut people down with it.

    Joy, what an honor! I am going through your list of blogger awardees—thanks for culling the most interesting ones for us!

  13. Hello - I popped over from your comment on Muriel's blog, and I'm so glad I did. I share your reverence (no, I wouldn't have crossed through it) for words and their power for good. Because to use words well, you have to think. I've put you on my follow list.

    (Off now for a restorative English cheese-and-pickle sandwich...)

  14. Hi, Deborah, I was admiring the wisteria in your garden, found myself at a loss for words, and left without leaving a comment. Imagine my surprise to find you here! So glad you visited, and thanks for following!

    I initially thought I had a reverence for words, until I remembered how I've also managed to use them for less than pure purposes. Hence, the choice to say I have a healthy fear of them, as I've seen what damage I can cause. Is it just that I've hit the mid-life phenomenon of saying exactly what I think? Or have I been tactless all of my life? I fear it's the latter. Will an English cheese-and-pickle sandwich work just as well as soap for cleaning out my mouth?

  15. Please continue brightening the world, Scrollwork. We can't change what we've done in the past. But, we can learn from it and share the love and wisdom. :) No lye! (Sorry, I had to go for the soap joke.) ;)