The Power of Words

Words mean things. That reality has been lost in the modern world. Words are tossed around flippantly, as if they are nothing more than puffs of air that make up our inhalations and exhalations as we breathe. The modern citizen has lost touch with language. Not only is that unfortunate, it is also dangerous. Our world is in a turbulent state of affairs at present moment. Too little attention is being paid to not only what words are being used, but how they are being used and ultimately interpreted and internalized by the receiver of the message. From a perspective of personal security up to national security, the power of words should never be underestimated. 

Thoughts+Words+Deeds= Conflict

I recall a corporate course we were teaching a couple of years ago in which a lady in the class asked a very interesting question. The scenario involved a confrontation in which her personal space had been violated by an agitator that had traversed a distance of about 10 yards before accosting her. She asked at what point in terms of time and distance should she react to the attack. I noticed she waited until the attacker was literally on top of her before she attempted to take any defensive or evasive measures. 

The scenario began with a verbal altercation from a distance of about 10 yards that escalated into an affray. What she and others in the course failed to taken into account in the scenario was that the fight as a whole began far before the physical encounter. It also began prior to the advancement by the agitator into her personal space. The fight began with the thoughts and words of both participants, in which one participant escalated the encounter into a full-blown assault. 

In most cases, victims of violence do not take into account the mindset of their attacker. A victim does not take into account that there are actually two trains of thought in this scenario; they are just travelling in opposite directions. This discussion usually devolves into an argument about “rights,” in which the victim asserts their “right” not to be assaulted and injured. That is true. From a human perspective, no one should be subjected to unwarranted violence. Sadly, it is also irrelevant in the world of criminal violence. A violent agitator does not care about the rights of those he or she hurts. Understanding this, as practitioners and teachers, we must focus on practice over philosophy in the short term. 

The mindset of an agitator begins with thoughts that may begin with utterances in a disagreement. The words a person uses may or may not be used in an inflammatory nature and tone. This is again irrelevant. In these cases, in which thoughts and words lead to deeds, what is understood is paramount to what is implied. What you say may be totally innocent and in no way implies harm or insult, but the way it is internalized and understood by a person that is troubled or inherently evil is the baseline in which we place our martial arts and self-protection skills into practice in these episodes. 

The foregoing discussion looks at language from a micro level perspective, in which violence is a product of interpersonal strife. As the world today is in a state of flux and uncertainty, words and their intent by the orator take on a vastly new and important meaning at both the personal and collective level. As measures are being taken to stem the tide of the Covid-19 pandemic, there are concerns among many in our communities that these measures are overreaching in terms of their impact on civil liberties. Your individual beliefs on these matters are based on your own beliefs, values, and mores. But it would be folly to dismiss these concerns by our neighbors because these concerns, when coming into disagreement with decisions and actions taken by a respective government, can lead to conflict. 

In our courses that are predominately women, I often take a survey of the participants on how they perceive certain words. One of the main words that draws the ire of our female clients is manipulation. This word has a nasty connotation because it implies deceit and dishonesty. Yet, at its core, the word can be used in many ways that are not meant to offend. To manipulate the direction of the car you are driving, you turn the steering wheel in the appropriate direction. When hanging a work of art on the wall, we manipulate the frame in order to ensure that it is straight. An airplane pilot manipulates the instrument of the aircraft to ensure its safe and efficient operation. Yet, some people automatically assume negativity concerning this word. He was manipulative while we were dating. My partner manipulates me to get what he or she wants. Words have context, and the context is in many cases what determines the positive or negative manner in which they are receive and acted upon. 

Today, we are hearing the phrase “new normal.” This is a loaded phrase that seems harmless, but it is not being treated with the attention it deserves. This is not intended to be libelous against those who use the term. Many who read this may see a “new normal” as a welcome change to our lives, and that is perfectly fine. Others may see a “new normal” as something to be dreaded, and that is also fine. We however must look at what a “new normal” means from an objective point of view. 

Natural and normal are not synonymous terms. To be natural means something is inherent within the conditions of a living being. Humans and animals naturally breathe, eat, pass waste, and procreate. That is part of the inherent biological nature of how we survive and thrive. When something is normal implies that it is accepted based on social and culturally accepted codes of conduct. From manners to accepted forms of sexuality within a specific culture, what is normal is based on socially and culturally accepted standards of conduct based on a common morality and value system. 

A “new normal” implies the birth of a new standard of normalcy, but it equally implies the death of a normal that has been part of our lives for quite some time. In the short term, a “new normal” implies that a “new normal” is now abnormal. If the “new normal” becomes accepted and commonplace, the “old normal” will eventually assume the role of abnormal behavior on a collective scale. When something is new, it also assumes a state of change. For some of our neighbors, this is welcome. For others, this is traumatic beyond comprehension. For some, new does not necessarily equate to a state of superiority. For others, old does not bring about a sense of comfort. Therefore, from a social perspective, we are at a crossroads. Will the “new normal” become normal, or will the old adage prove true in that the more things change, the more they stay the same? 

Words can breed distrust in people and institutions. There are countless people and organizations that distrust the government, religious institutions, and conglomerates such as banks. Words can be catalysts for catastrophes such as wars among nation states. Words alone can be daggers that allow the lifeblood of relationships to spill out and kill something that was once beautiful and serene. 

With my clients and students, we spend ample time on verbal escalation and de-escalation and how it relates to violence. Words mean things. A spoken word is like a bell that has been rung. Once rung, it cannot be unheard. On a personal level, be mindful of what you say. Likewise, use discernment in what you hear and ultimately understand. Our public servants may or may not mean harm by using phrases such as “new normal.” But they should also be cautious and more forthright in what these words mean for not only their supporters, but the entire community. 

In the age of social media, words are powerful. I love to write because it is a way for me to converse with you, my reader, in a very personal way. The written word is powerful because it can be reread infinitely. As a YouTuber, I am actively learning to use the spoken word to teach and reach our audience. Both mediums use words. I am a student again; in that I am having to use the lessons I am teaching from a self-protection perspective to ensure that the intended message reaches our audience and does not cause unintended consequences. Like many of you, I am constantly learning how to use the written and spoken word to help others and not harm them. It is by helping others that all benefit. Please remember those words in your daily lives as we navigate these uncertain times together. 

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