That question was posed in a movie appropriately titled The Words. The person who asked it was ironically a writer. Since I’m also a writer, and one who is quite fond of nouns, verbs, adjectives and the like, I had to give the character’s choice of words a moment to sink in.
And you know what? He’s right: words do ruin everything.
We all know the remorse of words uttered too quickly. We’ve sat foolishly with a proverbial pair of five-inch wedges in our mouths, the result of words spoken with too much emotion and too little thought. For, once let loose in the atmosphere, words are the damning evidence that can never be taken back. Those pesky words, getting in the way.
We can also relate to words misconstrued, taken out of context, or taken too literally. We rationalize: if they are never shared, they can never be confused, misunderstood, or underappreciated. If left unspoken, they can produce no hurt feelings, can inspire no offense, can cause no harm.
We have likely sat in a moment so beautiful and still, that the slightest sound would have interrupted the temporarily perfect balance of the universe. A conversation, a sentence, a phrase, a word – whether shouted or whispered – would have corrupted it.
We’ve also mourned the lost opportunity to say the right words. The phrases bubble up in our hearts like lava in a volcano’s gut. But by refusing to allow them to escape our lips, we force internal eruptions, their potency scalding our insides. As we, cloaked in foolish pride to cover our outward lesions, walk through life in silent, unbearable pain.
It’s true. Words ruin everything. But only when we don’t respect their power.
Years ago when I was learning to drive, I sat behind the wheel while my father instructed from the front passenger seat.
“If you lose respect for the vehicle, it’ll kill you,” he warned.
My sister and I laughed at his dramatics, but his advice rings true. Cars are powerful pieces of machinery. They can travel at thrilling but dangerous speeds. We marvel at how quickly they climb from zero to 60, but also bemoan the mere seconds it takes to wrap one around a tree.
Yet in all their beauty and horror, they are necessary. And like automobiles that usher us between here and there, words are often the dots connecting us to the world outside of ourselves.
For all the trouble they have the potential to cause, words provide necessary noise to our most precious moments. To the one who imparts them, they can be defining, illustrative, and liberating. To the recipient, they can be informative, validating, or inspiring. To the third party listening in, they can be all of the above.
Words give voice to thought. They are the necessary soundtrack to an otherwise eerily silent world. They are melodies translated into lyrics for the tone deaf. They are the unleashing of emotions once bound by the chains of fear, doubt, and pain. They are transcribed tears, audible affection. They are immortal romance in a world starved of love and running out of time. They set the heart aglow. They get down into the nooks and crannies of our souls and make themselves at home.
Sometimes words ruin everything, but sometimes words are everything. Sometimes they’re all we need, sometimes they’re all we have.
SheryLeigh is a woman who loves God, words, and people. She is currently living and loving as an author, blogger, poet, and spoken word artist in the Washington, D.C., area.
A communicator by education and trade, SheryLeigh holds a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism from Howard University and a Master of Arts in Management from Webster University.