As is the case with almost all of my posts, the inspiration for this particular piece came from a conversation I recently had with a friend (if a romantic interest with no foreseeable future can be so called). Before I can delve into the finer details of the conversation, however, I must apologise to whoever does me the great courtesy of following this blog for my rather long absence. The world seems to have taken a strange dislike to me, and nothing I do seems to set things right. More on that later, though. For now, I am back, presumably to vanish for another three months, but we should take what we can get, no?
The conversation which serves as the theme for this post is the very definition of escalation. Those who are familiar with me will know the tales of my eloquence, of the extent to which I take the expression of simple emotions. The friend whom I spoke of, as it happens, did not fully comprehend that about me at the time. In a display of endearment, I happened to use words which, by some arbitrary ruling, carry great weight. I was chided for “throwing such words so offhandedly”, with the assertion that “when you say it, you should mean it, otherwise when you actually mean it, what will you say?”
As things in this world are wont to do, this got me thinking about something which I’d already been pondering for quite a while now. I reflected back upon all the squabbles and quarrels I’d been a part of in my recent past (recall the tale of me getting a present from a friend, which I spoke of in “You can’t call people fat!”) and saw a pattern emerge: almost every fight I’ve had for a long time has been due to words being taken wildly out of context, just by virtue of their existence.
Too much importance is attached to the words that people use; not the meaning of the words, but the words themselves. It is true what they say: the pen is mightier than the sword. Words, simple in their crafting and majestic in their construction, are consuming in the hands of someone who knows how to wield them. There is overwhelming evidence of this today: poets and writers carry the capacity to reach places within you that you yourself didn’t know existed, making you question the fact of your own existence.
It has become so easy to be manipulated by people who know just what to say and when to say it, just because we put too much importance in the words that have been used. No one seems to care about the intent behind the words, or who they’re coming from, or the context in which they’re used, or anything, really. Words that have arbitrarily been assigned greater value than others are now off limits unless the situation warrants them because they can somehow lead to cataclysmic effects. Based on what, though? Who decides that certain words will hold this destructive power? As far as I am concerned, the culprit is the archaic notion of correctness. I have been trying, for a long time now, to get people to be comfortable with using whatever words they wish to use, whenever they wish to use them. Imagine if we weren’t burdened by the need to be linguistically appropriate all the time: we could explore not just language, but the human psyche itself to great extents.
The example that comes to mind is the word “love”. “Love” is possibly one of the most weighted words in the English language. Glorified by Hollywood and the like, it has become apocalyptic in its power, and all but a taboo in terms of usage, especially in interpersonal conversation. Saying that you love a person (Plato’s notions of love are being generously disregarded here) is tantamount to asking them to take a chainsaw to their families and drown in a sea of their own filth, irrespective of the intensity of the emotion expressed. “Love” is a beautiful word, and I’d like to be able to use it as and when I please, without worrying about the repercussions.
I believe that meaning comes from your knowledge of the person, not from random sounds that they make with their tongues. When time comes for me to actually mean the words that I previously used, apparently callously, I’ll do it by honest expression of emotion, not words which have been used a thousand times over. I don’t want to express my love for a person using the same words that a rapist uses to express their love for sexual abuse or even any other way that is considered conventionally correct.
I do not deny that there are times when the word itself carries the power to cause harm, but those instances are rare. Callously throwing around the words “nuclear holocaust” at a Japanese peace gathering is unacceptable, no matter what the intent, but to extend the same limitations to daily conversation, to words which form a part of our regular speech, seems to me a rather silly venture. The converse of what I say also holds true: just by virtue of using words which don’t carry as much weight as others, people cannot fully express the intensity of their emotions.
That words are a human enterprise seems lost upon people. We created words for effective communication, and it is shameful that we have become slaves to them today. Lifeless scrawls of manmade ink on manmade paper seem to control our thoughts, feelings, and eventually actions, all three of which are greater than anything anyone might have to say. I like to think that I have learned enough and seen enough to know how to express myself fully when the time comes to do so. Continuing along the same lines as the example above, I am confident that whenever, and if ever, I reach a stage where I want to translate my feelings of affection into words, I’ll have the right tools in my arsenal for the job, not because I claim to be some sort of wordsmith, but because there will be an understanding between us at that stage which will facilitate communication.
If it so happens that my particular way of expression does not translate as such to the other person, I’ll learn their way of expressing, and they’ll learn mine, and a stronger community will take existence.