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I heard on the radio this morning that a Florida Atlantic University professor was suspended after he told students to write the word 'Jesus' on paper, throw it on the floor and stomp on it.

My first reaction was “wow that really seems like a really insensitive assignment, but there must be more to the story.”  Upon further research there were more details - as there always are. It was an intercultural communication class, it was an assignment on the power of words, and students were not required to step on the words --  only instructed to do so.

But it really got me to thinking about how powerful “WORDS” are. As a child I grew up hearing that I should ignore “mean” words, i.e sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me. Basically, don’t pay attention to the mean things that people say -- they are just words.  But if this is the case, if words don’t really mean anything, then why was there an issue with the assignment of stomping on the word Jesus? What if the piece of paper had President Obama’s name on it?  Your parents’ names? Would it be alright at that point to stomp on a piece of paper with words on it?

So how powerful are words and WHY should we ignore some words and not others?

Rachel Brockway
Rachel Brockway
Senior Account Executive Rachel is a native Arizonian, who enjoys spending time with her family, traveling, playing tennis, reading and social media. She’s a busy mom and is passing the idea of volunteerism onto her son. Check out Rachel's Full Bio

7 Comments

  1. Scott Hanson says:

    Sometimes actions are more powerful than words and just as important to determine whether or not they should be ignored.

  2. Stephanie Lough says:

    I took an intercultural communications class where we has a similar lesson, but rather than this exercise we watched a movie on the origin of the “f word.” One of the main points was that once a word is frequently used out of context or in a newly accepted context, like the once R but now PG-13 f-bomb, it loses whatever powerful meaning it originally had, at least to that particular culture.

    A real life example, I recently had a falling out of sorts with a friend due to his overuse of a word that I absolutely despise and is generally accepted in the US as an extremely derogatory term towards women. He had come back from another country where the use of the word is now casual, probably equivalent to our use of “b*tch” in pop culture (as in it’s not always negative – It’s Briney, B***!) He thought I was being culturally ignorant, while I thought he was being insensitive and insulting. It’s too bad one little word put distance in our friendship, but goes to show – words, even individual ones, can be and are powerful!

    I think there are some words that shouldn’t be used often, if purely to preserve their meaning. I’d rather the word I hate stay relatively unused – and looking on the other side of things, sometimes you need that really powerful word so people know when you mean business.

  3. David Landis says:

    Amazing how words carry so much weight and how society’s vernacular evolves. Think of “Negro” (then) vs. “Black” or “African American” (now) – or queer (then), which was derogatory and which now is embraced by the gay community. Words have power, communicated properly. Cheers, David

  4. Rhoda Sylvester says:

    This article just proves how a person always needs to be aware of how they– ‘word’ conversations.

  5. Billie Walls says:

    Great blog topic.. It does make you wonder about thinking before speaking (or now-a -days texting) I do believe that words can have a very positive or very negative reaction,, so be careful what you say ( or text) .

  6. Natalie Norwood says:

    Words are the most powerful tool we have. Words of encouragement can build people up; while destructive words can tear them down. The use of encouraging words can help others to improve their self-esteem; thereby improving their life. Of course, the other side of the coin is true for destructive words. It is not only the words that matter, but the source from which they come. I recall as a child telling my mom that she had to say I was beautiful, so I did not believe her comment about me being beautiful was true. When a stranger said it, then I began to think of myself as possibly beautiful. When a boy I liked said it, then I believed.

    In the example we have the word Jesus on a piece of paper. A persons worldview would have a direct impact on what that word means to them. For non-believers it would be no different than any other name. For a believer it is the most precious word in their vocabulary and the thought of placing that name under foot would bring a sense of physical repulsion. Keeping this in mind we have to consider the way the words we say are interpreted.

    When we write or speak we do so based on our own understanding, that does not mean the recipient understands it to be as you intended it. This is why it is so very important to analyze who your target is and hone your words carefully to transmit the intended message.

    Words are beautiful – I am in love with them. Words are ugly – I am repulsed by them. Words are powerful – I am affected by them.

    Words are words and they are subject to interpretation. I am sure each person reading this can think of a word (or words) that were spoken to them during the course of their lifetime that has impacted them both negatively and positively. Now consider how your life might have been different if you had not heard those words. Words are powerful.

    The scriptures talk about the power of using words responsibly. “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” Ephesians 4:29.

    Choose your words carefully and apply them with grace.

  7. Brandi Plymale says:

    There is an abundance of power in our words. Words shape how we see ourselves and how we define others. It may sound easy to dismiss words that are hurtful or carry weight, but it can be challenging not to feel the pain or the joy of being referred to by certain names or words. Words truly do carry weight.

    Many Blessings,
    Brandi

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