Sunday, March 4, 2012

Sticks and stones. . .

"Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me." I grew up with that saying, but it never really made any sense to me. Of course words can hurt! But if you complained about it, back in the day, you were called yet another name, or told to "grow up." Or, if you were a boy, insulted by being called "a girl" (which is another topic for discussion. . . ).

Last Wednesday Lady Gaga launched her new  Born This Way Foundation. She hopes to offer a strong antidote to a society that celebrates those who conform to some limiting norm, and denigrates those who either dare to be different, or were just born that way. We should all be grateful to Lady Gaga for putting her considerable influence and resources to work solving this very real problem -- one that, according to Nick Kristof's Thursday column in the New York Times, she personally experienced.

And just as this wonderful foundation was being unveiled, we had a fine example of bullying from one of the masters of the craft, Rush Limbaugh. His words have already come back to haunt him as sponsors decided they could no longer support such behavior. Yes, Rush did eventually apologize for his "word choice." But I, for one, do not expect him to change any time soon. Bullies keep bullying until they actually understand what damage they are doing, which often means they never stop.

Today many of us recognize bullying language for what it is, a way to destabilize and disempower the target or victim. Words have power. They always have. Dramatists have known this for centuries, so have poets. Novelists do as well, and screenwriters, and ad execs. Parents and children know it. Everyone knows it, yet how many of us forget . . . until we have said something we cannot take back? We communicate through words, through the shadings of meaning we convey when we make certain word choices. When we speak, we set in motion a chain of events. So we must stand behind our words, and not use them carelessly. This is not just advice for public speaking; many a private relationship has sunk quicker than the Titanic because of thoughtless speech.

Commit to your words. As I tell my acting students, behind the words there is always intention. If you have no intention, then don't say anything. Because after all, there really is no such thing as "just talking."

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