What does a Word Weigh?

Bismihi Ta’ala

Words.  So many of them.  Thousands upon thousands that we use without thinking…  I sometimes feel that one of the reasons I stopped blogging as frequently as I used to was because I was afraid  (and still am) of the fact I didn’t know who was reading what I wrote and what they were taking away from it.  What if I wrote something and the reader misunderstood it?  What if I shared an idea that was flawed and another person took it and acted upon it?  Would I be able to shoulder the responsibility of that?

Recently though I’ve begun to understand that this was my ego speaking.  If only the people with perfect ideas spoke out, there would be little to read in the world!  It is for the reader to decide whether they agree with me or not, if they want to take my ideas or reject them.  I haven’t claimed to know everything – or anything for that matter.   All that I write is simply my opinion.

Attention, I believe, is the seed for a sense of self-importance.   I am realising this even as I write these word 🙂  Before I was aware that anyone was reading my posts of following them, I ‘lol-ed’ and said silly things on it.  I wrote of fanciful ideas and I was serious or whimsical without a second thought.  I was just myself.  But with every reader I have gained, I have felt a slight ‘weighing down’. (don’t worry, I still *heart* all you guys :D)  It has been as if someone is suddenly listening on into my private conversations with myself.

The more I have shared this blog with others, the more ‘aware’ I have become of an audience.  And much as I coveted having a readership or having people comment about my words, it has turned out to be a different experience and journey than I expected.  Which is probably unfair to all of you who began reading my blog for what it was originally.

I want to try and go back and bring the ‘freshness’ that I had initially promised my then-non-existent readers on the first day I created this little corner for myself in cyber space.  I want to go back to writing not just from my mind, but from my heart as well.  It means I might filter less, consider less and think less about my posts, but that leaves the door open for you all to come in and correct, debate or share 🙂

And what better way to do that than to write about a few things that have been on my mind a lot in the past few weeks.  I’ll probably write in backwards chronology, but hey, the important thing to have this written down somewhere outside of my head!

We’re talking about words and their weight and I recently read an opinion on facebook about Malala Yousafzai’s father on TED 2014  (I love TED talks btw, and have just recently discovered Brain Games too… I’m in mini-heaven).  He spoke of his own journey and how he treated his daughter differently in a society that was oppressive to women.  Now I agree with all that he stands for and all that he has done to ensure his daughter gets an education and a life of dignity, but I did find myself jarred by one particular phrase that he used, especially as it was the phrase being quoted, tweeted, re-quoted, tagged, shared and retweeted all over social media.

He said:   “I taught my girl students to unlearn the lesson of obedience.”  Now, it sounds really catchy and the kind of statement that should lead a movement of some sorts and I know that he meant it in the context of being obedient to the Taliban and the irrational ‘laws’ set down by them, and yet…it doesn’t rub me the right way.

I may be accused of being semantic or of missing the woods for the trees, but I have always believed that words give a reality to our ideals.  They shape our world.  The wrong word used in the wrong place at the wrong time can bring about a war, whilst the right one can establish peace.  We fight amongst ourselves sometimes,  because one forefather said something to another forefather and we may not even know what was said, but it carries the feudal grudge down through generations.  We are taught what words to use when speaking to children because of the effect it has on their mental and psychological well-being.

We live in a world of political correctness and we make a big deal about things that don’t even matter sometimes.  So why don’t we consider how careful we have to be with messages that we pass on to mass audiences?  I can still remember when it became fashionable to be the ‘rebel’ and ‘rebellion’ was a word that was hugely positive.   To break the rules, to go against the norm, to do things differently – all these are considered to be the foundation of creativity and change.  And they well may be.  However, if we were to encourage mass rebellion without thought or without an aim in mind, we would end up with chaos, wouldn’t we?

I think when speaking on a platform like TED which has an audience that is truly international and timeless, there is a need to weigh almost every word one says.  While Ziauddin Yousafzai probably never intended for his words to mean anything else except as positive, people were using that one statement almost as a slogan: We must teach – and learn ourselves – to disobey.  The question that was important though is: disobey what?

Without the clarification of what ideas and practices we should ‘disobey’ and stand up against, people can choose to apply this lesson to whatever their personal circumstances may be.  They could choose to disobey what is good and right simply because it doesn’t make sense to them or they can’t see the long term benefit of ‘obedience’.

I find it especially scary, as a teacher, that when I try to instill the idea of complete and total obedience to God, I may get a smart reply about how we should actually be learning to ‘disobey’.  I know it’s a far stretch of imagination and that there is plenty of argument to say, for example, that if we teach our children well enough about God, they will not only understand but also want to obey Him.  But how often do things work out that way?

I know that one of the hardest lessons I have had to start learning – and I still struggle with it daily – is that of obedience to Him.  The thrill of disobedience can be overwhelming because of the feeling of power it gives you, of a sense of control of your self (however false or contradictory that may be) and yet, it is only through learning how to humble the self to what is Right and to obey that we can ever succeed.

I know that at the end of the day, this statement will probably be forgotten and shelved away to gather dust in the archives of quotation-sites and books.  It will not create a revolution or start a war.  It will not change the world in a major way.  But it may – just may – influence the few who heard his words or shared them.  It may not influence them to act, but simply to think a certain way.  And they in turn may pass on this perspective to their children or students and friends…and for a few people, it may form the basis of their idea of how a certain aspect of life should be handled.

It is for that possibility that I felt the need to write about this.  For the possibility that if I kept silent on this, someone else may say something that has a huger impact and I would be tempted to stay even more silent.  So this is my post to ask that if we are ever in a situation where our words will go far and wide, if we are speaking to an audience that is larger that we can know or imagine, that we should consider deeply and at length what we say and the potential repercussions of our expressions.

I wish that he had instead said “I taught my girl students to unlearn obedience to oppression”  or “I taught my girl students the lesson of justice” or “I taught my girl students the power dignity and self-respect”   So many different ways to say the same thing…who will ever know which is the best?