Your Words Matter

Your Words Matter: I chose this phrase for my home page of this website because I thought it conveyed the essence of my work. At the time, I was thinking about finding just the right words for books and articles, ads and brochures, resumes and application letters.

But today I keep thinking about that phrase–your words matter–and how it applies to the brutal murders that took place in Tuscon, Arizona, yesterday. Six people dead, a congresswoman critically injured, a dozen directly wounded by the gunfire, countless others wounded indirectly.

It’s true that there is no way to draw a straight line from recent political debates to the man who pulled the trigger. But there is also no way to ignore the influence of the blistering insults and hyperbolic accusations that have dominated public discussion of government issues in the past few years.

Your words matter. Is there a difference between “an opponent” and “an enemy”? Between “focusing on” a race and “targeting” a candidate? Between “defeating” and “eliminating”? Although dictionary definitions of such terms may be similar, the words definitely differ in emotional currency.

It seems clear that the suspect in these shootings was mentally unstable, that words held different meanings for him than they did for most people. And that is why I am so disturbed when hateful words with violent shadings are tossed around indiscriminately and repeatedly in public discourse. Although most listeners can discern the difference between hyperbole and a call to action, some can not. Speakers and writers must take responsibility for their words, choosing them carefully so that they can spark an idea without sparking an out-of-control wildfire.

Spraying incendiary words through the airwaves or across the Internet can be as dangerous as firing a Glock into a crowd at a supermarket. You never know who you might hit or what damage you could do.

Your words matter.

January 10, 2011

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Tammy Ditmore edited my book, The Quest for Distinction: Pepperdine University in the 20th Century. It was a huge assignment, requiring skills that set her apart from most professional editors. She re… Read more
W. David Baird, Dean Emeritus of Seaver College, Pepperdine University

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