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.