As many of you may already know, Bob Dylan, won the Nobel Prize for Literature this week. As someone who has listened to his music and over the years has studied almost all of his song lyrics, I am not surprised. When the award was announced this week in Sweden, it was noted that Dylan was receiving recognition for “having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.” The words of his songs have been listened to and have influenced millions of people world wide for over fifty years. His words, along with the words of all great poets and writers, are proof of the power of words to alter our moods, change our way of thinking, and ultimately effect how we act.
Words create worlds because language impacts how we think and act. Not just Mr.Dylan’s, but our words as well. If you need proof of the power of words to create your world, simply note the difference between greeting another person, or a group of people with words of appreciation and gratitude versus greeting them with a shaming or degrading comment. What different worlds would you create with these different words?
October is Domestic Violence Awareness month. This provides us with another opportunity to think about the power of how words create worlds. Domestic violence obviously includes physical and sexual violence and aggression, but it also includes verbal abuse and intimidation. Verbal abuse, using words to objectify, shame, control, and degrade another person, shows a powerful negative way that words create worlds. Any language that creates a world where it is okay to use or objectify another person is never okay. Hopefully, “the times they are a-changing” in regard to our consciousness about how we honor and respect one another with our words. The time has come to stop minimizing the harmful power of words, and for no one to excuse verbal, as well as physical abuse, by anyone – ever.
The words that you and I speak on any given day won’t be heard by millions of people. They will however be heard, by the people in our immediate circles of influence. They will, in fact, greatly influence the kind of worlds we create for ourselves, our families, friends, colleagues, and our communities. May we choose our words wisely, guided by a desire for love, compassion, and justice. And may we have the courage to speak out against any words that try to normalize a culture of objectifying and abusing others, whenever and where ever we encounter them. It is in these small acts of speaking up against any violence towards others that we can co-create a better world.
We can all take a clue from Mr. Dylan and choose our words carefully and wisely. We can think about how we want to say things, planning out our words before we speak about important thoughts and feelings. We may not win any awards with our words, but we can use them to create a more loving and just world, and in the end that is more important than any prize any of us could ever hope to win.
I close with these uplifting words from Bob Dylan’s song Forever Young (1973). As you read these words, it might be helpful to think of the idea of staying forever young as staying forever open to growing in self-awareness about how we speak to and treat one another.
May you grow up to be righteous
May you grow up to be true
May you always know the truth
And see the lights surrounding you
May you always be courageous
Stand upright and be strong
May you stay forever young