Opinion: Daily Journal

Words matter, and each carries in its meaning a unique gravity — real and perceived

Throughout my career in journalism, I’ve tried to make it a point to learn something from all each of my editors, even those I often questioned, or even disliked.

One such editor, who falls into that latter category, sometimes made points that were both salient and eloquent.

Words matter, he once said.

Each and every word has its own meaning, though to many the synonymic difference is imperceptible.

Words matter, in meanings specific to situations and to ideas.

Sunday’s sermon, at my church in Cary, reminded me of that editor’s teachings, that words can be as easily divisive as they can harmonious. Today’s political environment offers daily examples, though, again, the outcome typically leans toward the latter.

In the similar vein, a Facebook friend last week posted a question: “For 2019, what’s your ONE word?”

A simple question? Yes. Simple answers? Not so much.

Because each word carries in its meaning a unique gravity, real and perceived.

The year will bring more threats — of lawsuits and retaliation. More political hand-wringing and more ideological spats. More needless insult and rebuke.

Much of this can’t be avoided.

But words matter. They always will. Common, elementary words could mean so much if thoughtfully considered and used as a moral guide.

I’ve looked at that Facebook thread and chosen a few I think are pertinent, especially in a politically tumultuous 2019. No one expounded on their words in the thread, but I wanted to.

I’ve tweaked the narrative with my own words, too, which I think better encompass our polar and tribal political environment. 

Brave: The word, to me, at first conjures images of war and of personal strength while facing sadness and tragedy. “Courage” may be more apt. To remain courageous in all things we do, regardless of our fears and anxieties. To hold fast to ideals and conviction, staying true to our beliefs while thoughtfully and respectfully considering the beliefs and ideas of others. That brings me to the next word.

Respect: Political disagreement and passionate discourse is essential to the health of our republic, but personal insult, spite, and blatant vindictiveness should have no place in that arena. Logic, sound judgment, and persuasive arguments grounded in fact, research and experience should prevail, as opposed to pettiness, meanness, unsubstantiated claims, and unwarranted attacks.

Curiosity: This words plays off the first two. Much of today’s political polarization and reluctance to consider alternate ideas is a general lack of curiosity, a reticence by some to explore disparate ideas and to become more aware, of not only personal convictions but also of the views and opinions of others.

Truthfulness: No explanation needed.

Kindness: This word, which dovetails with “respect,” was my contribution to the group. One can espouse their beliefs while still being cordial and civil. Life, for all of us, isn’t easy. Each day each of us faces a personal struggle. Some of us are grieving, others are anxious — about their jobs, their finances, their children, and on and on. We know something about the lives of our family, friends, colleagues, and neighbors. But not a lot. About strangers, we know nothing.

It’s all a simplistic exercise, but it could be a start. In dangerous world, a world of political antipathy and power mongering, we should choose any path that at least tries to end in civility.