Words have an amazing power to create hope; words can also demoralize and destroy. Coming from a president, words can start wars, ignite financial panics and carry a nation through a troubled time.
A recent USA Today analysis of the 64 rallies Trump has held since 2017 found that, when discussing immigration, the president has said “invasion” at least 19 times. He has used the word “animal” 34 times and the word “killer” nearly 36 times.
Words of extremism, fear and hate are being spoken from the highest office of our country. It is the kind of speech that wounds humanity on a level that will take decades to heal.
But this is not about sides. This is not about laws. This is about honoring and respecting the power of speech and bringing dignity back to soulful communication. Choosing to use the word “invasion” has consequences. Choosing to stay silent also has consequences.
As communicators, it is crucial for us to think about how we are showing up in the world. As communicators, it is crucial to think about the power our words have and the weight they carry. It is also crucial to understand how staying silent can be equally as destructive.
Several months ago, on the subway home from seeing Michelle Obama at the Barclay Center in Brooklyn, I witnessed a group of young white boys talking with one another. It was around 10 p.m. and the train was moderately full of people. These five boys were speaking at a volume meant to be heard. And they were talking about two girls they went to school with.
What was so shocking is they were talking derogatorily about these girls as if they were sexual property. They were speaking violence against two young girls in such a way, that it became violence against all the women on the train, including me.
I stood up, walked over to these boys, and asked them to stop. I shared that what they were saying was violent, and these young women needed to be respected with their language and actions. Of course, they were sarcastic with me, but they stopped. They laughed at me, but they stopped. They stopped speaking.
Had I been silent, they would have continued offending everyone on the train with their violent speech. My hope is that next time, the one boy in that group who knows this is wrong, will have the courage not to remain silent. He, in turn, can help shape the others’ behaviors moving forward. This is how we change the story of respectful communication.
We recently lost the great Toni Morrison. In 1993, she gave an acceptance speech for winning the Nobel Prize.
“Fiction has never been entertainment for me, it has been the work I have done for most of my adult life, I believe that one of the principal ways in which you acquire, hold and digest information is via narrative. So I hope you will understand when the remarks I make begin with what I believe to be the first sentence of our childhood. That we all remember the phrase, once upon a time.”
We are in a moment in history where words are more important than ever. As communicators, we have an opportunity to rethink how we speak. As a people, we have an opportunity to create a new narrative, one that is driven by thoughtful and respectful speech.
I’m not asking for us to share in the same beliefs, or have the same opinions. Our differences create endless possibility. However, speaking mindfully and deliberately from a place of love and respect, is the only way we can change the current narrative.
Once upon a time... Let’s write a new story. It’s up to us.