If you have the choice between right and kind always choose kind.
A value, which I have tried to live by my whole life. I love words – well obviously I write. I also believe that I have a fairly good vocabulary, not excellent or exceptional but perhaps above average.
Recently I had an experience with words that as a teacher of young children and people of all ages struggling to learn the English language, shockingly made me take stock of myself and what I say because ‘words’ do matter to all of us and some can cut like a knife.
Pedagogically I have knowledge of the skills it takes to decode words and how we all go about doing both consciously and unconsciously. We use clues in the context of the surrounding text to figure out an unknown word. We use phonemes and phonics – sounding out to begin to decipher the unknown word but we need the words around the unknown word to help it make sense to us.
As ageing adults I am sure you all know that our eyesight starts to wain and things blur. We may or may not be able to make out the words on the page. Perhaps some come into focus and then this is when some of our old deciphering and decoding skills come into play. By knowing the context of the words in general and using some of the decoding skills at our disposal although we might not clearly be able to make out what is written we can make a guess and generally a good majority of the time we are correct. If we get to frustrated then of course we must take out the reading glasses and put them on.
I was at a party of a book club and we were exchanging books; the room was dimly lit and I needed to read aloud the back description of a book. In vanity and because I have the belief that the more you wear glasses the more you need them, I was not wearing my glasses and could not really make out the words on the back description of the book. As I often do in these circumstances my deciphering skills kicked
in and I started to read however there was one particular word that I had never seen before and because I couldn’t see it clearly I couldn’t really decode it to say it. I got very nervous and stumbled over the reading several times until finally someone took the book who was wearing glasses and read it.
I should say she rescued me but a comment was made that if I can’t read perhaps I shouldn’t be in the book club and this must be why I loved listening to books on Audible.com Words do cut like a knife even when they may be said in jest. We all come across words we don’t know or are unfamiliar with so we don’t know how to pronounce them or decode them. I knew the form of speech the word was from but I had never seen it used before. It was in a list of adjectives so the context gave me little help.
My mother I believe was a controlled stutterer and has been corrected all her life for the way she pronounces words so sometimes she will take a few seconds longer to get out a word because of her thought process. I often get selfconscious around people whom I know to be very intellectual if they start using terms or language I am unfamiliar with. I think most people are like this. We shy away once we are adults from asking if we don’t know. I digress, the key is we must be aware that what we say matters and has consequences.
I saw a talk by Whoopi Goldberg where she said that the worst most destructive swear word in the world was ‘stupid’. She outlined why this word was so much worse than any other swearword you could possibly say yet people throw it around all the time: what a stupid thing to do, oh don’t be so stupid, this is so stupid, you’re just stupid. These kinds of statements can be said over and over again and they can cut to the core, making people believe something about themselves that just isn’t true. Words matter, let’s be careful with ours.