Words are powerful.
We never really know how people are going to respond to our words, to us. We never know what kind of impression we make on others. What they keep and what they will take away. Words need to be respected for their power, for their ability to do harm, as well as good. They should be used wisely and with intention.
I believe every individual, every writer, poet, artist, student, newscaster, naked crazy man, has the right to express themselves. I believe in freedom of speech and expression.
I have heard and read words that have changed my view on the world. Words that have left an imprint on the person I am today. Words can educate, they can inspire, they can start wars and end them. Words can cut and they can heal.
When we are young, when we are learning, we must have the freedom to experiment with our words, with our beliefs, and with our interpretations of the world. This is how we learn. We must have the freedom to explore our voice and perspectives. To learn new ideas and chop them fine and blend them into what makes a mind its own.
I am a writer. I write because it helps me understand the world. One of the hardest things for any writer to learn is how to murder the angel that holds her tongue. That sweet darling who shakes her head in disappointment dare that writer say the wrong thing. It took me fifteen years to kill what Virginia Woolf dubbed the angel in the house. Writers know that a voice doesn’t develop over night.
As a teacher I will be damned if I teach a single student to listen to the angel which perches on her shoulder. Telling them what to say and what to ignore, telling them it’s time to keep your mouth shut.
As a writer, as a teacher, as member of the human race, I want to inspire others; I want to understand myself and my world. I want to open others up to the possibilities of all they can be.
These are lofty goals, I know.
For the last several years I have had my students analyze a poem by Shane Koyczan entitled “This is my Voice.” The poem created a mantra allusive to the rifle man’s creed: “This is my voice, there are many like it, but this one is mine.”
After some analysis and discussion the students get the root of the poem: their voice can be a weapon. Their voice has power. Their voice can create change in this world. Many of the heroes Koyczan refers to, such Martin Luther King, Gandhi, John Lennon, were murdered for their beliefs. But that didn’t stop their words from making a difference.
As a teacher, if I didn’t teach students to stand up for what they believe in, I wouldn’t be doing my job. I want to teach students the power of their words, I want them to find and develop their voice in a safe environment. Learning how to speak for one’s self and develop critical thinking skills is a process that should occur in our school systems. If not, what are we teaching our children except the regurgitation of facts?
There will always be someone, some faction, some group, who may not see things your way. Those people have the right to argue, to state their own opinion, to discuss fact and issues, to agree or disagree. That is freedom of speech.
This world is a colorful place full of colorful people who believe colorful things. No one should have the power to suppress someone else’s beliefs. Yet it still happens. It happen all the time, around the world, despite our efforts.
These issues need to stay fresh in our collective consciousness. They to be kept alive though discourse and exchange. We need to remind each other as well as ourselves, the importance of our individuality. We need to give each other and ourselves the strength and courage to take a stand for what we believe and nourish an essential sense of community.
It is not easy. But nothing worth fighting for ever was. Words have the power to insight revolution, they have the power to demonstrate opinion, and they have the power to make a change. Words have the power to heal. If we restrict out words due to fear or intimidation, we don’t develop the skills to create words that can cause change, that can empower, that can heal.