words are things

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Maya Angelou once said, “Words are things, I’m convinced. You must be careful about the words you use.”

When I heard this, I sat on it for days and weeks, until I understood the power of that statement. The true power of words. Sometimes we throw words around as if they mean nothing, assuming that they are small and insignificant. And perhaps when we think of power, we think instead of sabers, kings, land, money… yet completely ignore the way that words have perpetuated these very things and concepts through time and space.

Words have the power to build someone up, or crush someone’s spirit. They can be fertilizer for our souls, inspiring us to grow and aspire. They can also wound us like long, shiny knives, lodging themselves into our hearts, shaped in the form of “bitch,” “ugly” or others… and stay with us and pass on, generation to generation. Words can awaken our slumbering minds like coffee, push us to see a new way, to dream as big as Martin Luther King, Jr. once dreamed.

And now I am convinced too. Words are things. They are versatile, shifting in shape and form. We carry them with us, and they bleed through our skin, the way we dress and wear our make-up. They form our body and how we walk. They are tools that mold our minds, and give us the means to mold others. We can do so much good with them, yet in that vein, so much evil. It is up to us how we choose to use words. With all that they can do, Maya Angelou speaks wisdom as she urges us to use their power carefully.

But there is so much beauty in words. It becomes clearer to me as I write this, that even when we have absolutely nothing, even if we may feel oppressed and lack money or privilege, we are never powerless. We will always have words; they cannot be taken away. People so easily dismiss them in favor of higher status things in this world, but we must be careful not to deny the power of words. They live as we use them in our minds, through our mouths, though our pens or the keyboard of our computer. We may be completely naked and without a single material possession to our name, and still have the power to effect great change in the world, with the most simplest of instruments.

But there is nothing simple about words. I believe this to my very core. We can paint, draw, stick, crumple, or weave them together, and create something quite extraordinary.

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the struggle for the dreamer

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As a dreamer existing in a “real-based” world, I find myself constantly up against the struggle of my imagination with reality. I’ve gone from completely rejecting reality to reside inside my mind, only to find that it increased my misery and disappointment… to now, where I am super practical about making decisions. Lately I’ve been feeling pressure from people around me to be “practical” all of the time, and because their advice made logical sense, I’ve been taking it. But at the same time, I’ve also been feeling depressed and unhappy.

I thought of a conversation I had with professor/mentor. I had been telling him about one of my possible dreams/goals, and how my brother was discouraging me from it due to practical, “realistic” reasons. It’s a difficult route, and you might not be able to handle it. You have to make sure you are really ready for it. You’ll be further in debt if you do. People have a really hard time doing it, so you have to be aware of that. As I told my professor my doubts, I said to him, “My brother makes good points. He wants me to be practical about this. He wants me to make grounded decisions.”

Then my professor stared at me for a few seconds, and replied with a straight face, “Is he making you grounded, or is he cutting off your wings?

Boom. My mind was effectively blown at that.

I realized then how right my professor was. After drowning in the misery and impracticality of basking solely in my imagination when I was younger, I have been working to live successfully in reality as a dreamer. But as a result, I am venturing too far on the other extreme, and losing touch with my dreams and idealism. I’m cutting off my wings.

As important as it is for us to be practical and realistic, I would argue that it is just as important (maybe even slightly more) to dream, imagine and create. I think of people like Steve Jobs or John Lennon, or of my own personal role models, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Maya Angelou–people who never held themselves back from their dreams, especially in the wake of antagonistic pressures, and instead pressed forward with their grand visions. They painted a new reality, they expressed their true, inner selves with courage, even if practicality at the time may have judged them as “odd” or “overly idealistic.”

So this is the struggle of the dreamer. Our spirit and soul must grapple with the dealings of earthly reality, as it sits inside our physical bodies. We have to pay the bills, chug along to keep food on the table and clothes on our backs. And many times our high expectations do not match reality.

Yet we must also not give up our dreams. Because consider what I have been chewing on the past few weeks: what if our dreaming tendencies are our nature? What if that is a part of who we are? What if by being wired this way, we were given a particular, valuable gift of creating and re-shifting the world as we know it? Practical souls are just as valuable, as they maintain structures and keep stability. That is their role. But that does not mean all of us have to run around being like them… if anything, we need the balance in this world. We need the dreamers to ask questions, to think outside the box, to re-imagine a better place and tenaciously shake the status quo, just as we need the practicals.

And that is why I’ve been feeling depressed and unhappy… because I’ve been denying my true nature. I’ve been stifling my voice, my inner expression. I was made to be a dreamer. Yes, we certainly need to address the realistic concerns of living in this world. Perhaps it is a matter of being able to hold both reality and our dreams.

But let’s not reduce dreaming as childish and “impractical” as people are apt to do. Dreaming feeds imagination, inspiration, hope, love, light. We may encounter many obstacles in the midst of pushing our dreams forward; but then we should ask ourselves, are our dreams worth fighting for?

I’d like to think that the good things in life are worth fighting for. As Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.

So to my fellow dreamers: let us always stay true to our nature. Let us dream on.