Something happened on Twitter this morning that set my mind going on words. Words, words, words, in the beginning was the Word. Words are powerful.
But first, to put things into perspective for you, Gentle Reader, I need to do something that I don’t often do. I have to open up about myself. But only a little.
When I was a youngling, I was different than the other kids. Today, I would probably be labeled gender-nonconforming but back then I was just called a sissy. Growing up where I did, in rural Alabama, this lead to a lot of teasing. Teasing not only from my peers, but from within my family as well. My naiveté, my gullibility, my fledgling queerness all made me the perfect target for ridicule.
My older brother is 15 years my senior, he was the center for the high school football team, ran his own logging business, the very definition of a redneck. All my life he has picked on me. Most of the time it was verbal, but sometimes it would be physical. The oh so fun StopHittingYourself gag never got old. One of my his favorite admonishments to me was if I didn’t behave he would “put you in ruffled drawers.” Leviticus 18:22 was thrown around a lot as I hit puberty. Another favorite was when I was asked if I sat down to pee (because sitting to pee was something girls did). Ridicule is something that I grew up with. It became the norm.
You learn to hate yourself when your errors are pointed out to everyone.
Earlier today I found a post on Tumblr about how Google planned to use profiles for advertising. I copied the link to the article and posted it on Twitter with the caption “Goddammit google. Don't. just. just. Omg.” One of my followers tweeted me back “Um, that's like 6 months old…”, “So, SURPRISE! *blows party horn, throws glitter and confetti*” and finally “–Later…–Google Exec 1: Let's release a giant worm to devour Alabama & see if anyone notices. GE2: I know one won't! All: HAHAHAHA.”
To be honest, my first reaction was to lash out in anger. My first reaction was to say some very mean things and use language that I would be ashamed of later. Instead, I took some time to compose myself before I addressed this and I think that it was a good thing I did. What could have turned into a flame war with one person insulting the other until one of us ragequit instead became an apology and the impetus for this little bit of writing. I said, “Thanks for publicly pointing out that error in the most sarcastic and humiliating way possible. #buildingselfesteem”. Which prompted my follower to apologize.
In his apology, my follower used a phrase that got me thinking about the power of words. My follower tweeted, “Dude, I didn't mean to humiliate, was just poking fun. Sorry for offending.” I started thinking about what “poking fun” meant. A quick trip to the Google and I found according to Oxford Dictionaries dot com, “Poking Fun” is a verb that means “To tease or make fun of, synonymous with ridicule” So when you are poking fun, you are ridiculing someone. Now, poking fun implies a lightheartedness without malice. Ridicule has a different weight entirely. Ridicule comes from a mean place. When you are poking fun at someone, you are being mean to them. Your words, whether intentional or not, are meant to harm.
When words are used injudiciously they can harm. Words have power. Be careful with your words.