Thursday, June 9, 2011

Words slap hard

If you do not know this about me, I am a person who typically chooses their words with caution. There is this lingering fear that overwhelms me; in which I will hurt someone deeply and never be able to truly apologize, because I will not recognize the offense. Coupled with this fear is my fascination with language; how one need only to look at language and see the power dynamics thrive as Wittgenstein and Lyotard described. But I realized, that although I am a careful person, I am human and subject to the socialization process of stupidity.

Quick question: Have you ever heard someone say one of the following, or an off-shoot:
I want to die.
Kill me now.
I'd rather die.
I'd rather commit suicide.
Hang me.
Shoot me.


Well, I have. Repeatedly. In fact, I've heard it so much, it became part of my daily lexicon. Me, who can never tolerate racial jokes, gay jokes or statements like "that's so retarded"; I use these "kill me" statements all the time. Despite the fact that I know people who have committed suicide, I know people who have attempted it, and I have even talked people out of it.

Now, some people might say something like: What's the big deal? It's just a saying....

No, it's not. A couple of months ago, a friend of mine who I knew was depressed was talking to me about the most random things. I said something like one of those aforementioned phrases. I saw the shock on his face, but at the time I didn't comprehend the shock. Maybe I ignored it. Maybe I told myself I was misreading him. I don't know, it was back in january or february... some month when it was snowing like whoa.

Tonight, I said something to the effect of 'hang me now'.... and the minute the words and body language slipped past my control, I regretted it immensely. I kept thing "oh crap, I am so insensitive". Maybe I'm selfish and want to redeem myself....? Maybe, I want to come to terms with myself... Maybe, I want this to be a teachable moment.... But I realized, sometimes we can do something for so long and not realize how much it may hurt someone. While at other times, it just clicks into place and you realize the mistakes.

To my friends who have sought my advice and help through their times of depression and sadness: I apologize.
To all others, I hope I learn to be more cautious about my words.

I continued to think and think..... and think about those statements. Have you realized that these statements are a form of self-degredation? You enslave your soul to a sense of worthlessness and send it into a limbo of hopelessness. An inferiority complex develops, and one starts to think that they really don't matter.

Think about who you have ever heard make these statements... Most of the time, I hear it from people of subaltern backgrounds. People of "otherness" (myself included). Is this a mental slavery? Is this a way to condition the minority masses into feeling like life is not worth it. Wittgenstein believes that language is the embodiment of power; that you see the dynamics of human beings through language. Is this a manifestation of it? Are these statements a way to keep people down. To question their self-worth? Honestly, I don't know.

Recently, a person close to me told me they wanted to die. They said "Reem, life is not worth living... I'd rather die" (somewhat paraphrased, but essentially that). And on the spot I said: "Don't say that! Don't ever say that!".... You only put yourself down into a rut that you sink deeper and deeper into, like quicksand. Depression is a scary thing. Suicide and death, even more so.

So, today, I am breaking free from my past linguistic servitude. Whenever I am tired, exhausted, frustrated, going nuts and even depressed.... I will say "I'm going to bring life" or something to that effect. When someone around me says something like "I want to die" I will respond with "but I want you to live"; it doesn't matter whether they were joking or serious. Life is precious. And words, despite the saying "sticks and stones....", can destroy the world.... or help build a beautiful one.

Therefore, to anyone who reads this: LIVE.
and this poem emerges:

Sticks and stones may break my bones
but words will never hurt me
is an inaccurate fallacy
people do get hurt,
in fact , they die...
A word, can trigger wars
or broker peace deals
It is the tight rope walk between
One person can joke
and another will choke
till the words drive them crazy
push them into a frenzy
of anger, laughter, hate, love
life is anything but fair,
and we need to bear the burden
of our rashly, vomited words...
I never understood how a negative statement
could become so common
We twitch at racism
but shrug at sexism
bat an eyelash at political incorrectness
but don't give a crap about those who are affected
It's a show and we're all jugglers
of pins... no words... no pins
that poke us in the gut...
because we had a gut feeling that something went wrong
with that last statement....
So, think deep, ponder wide
sink into a cloud nine
of hope...
life is no joke....
the phrase
"I want to die"
may be said non-committedly
can steal someones soul
throw it overboard
while we go on alive
without realizing
we became a murder...
just by uttering a few words...


Keep on living y'all. I know, that without a doubt, you have so much to contribute. Let no one stop you.


fatima said...

i love this post - and i agree!!! thanks for the perspective :-)

LW said...

This reminds me of a conversation with Luqman about positive self talk. I totally feel this, different statements but the same consequence of hurt to others or self. I love you Reem! And by the way I am a runner and athlete :) What are you?

supreem said...

LW- hahaa I love you to!!! ---> I'm a scholar of political and social thought and the embodiment of contentment.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad people like you exist :) I'm touched and humbled by your thoughtfulness.

Fayez said...

I will add another perspective. What do our words do to our loved ones? What do our words do to those who are helplessly under our care? Our children? Our aging parents?