This is usually a place for humor–or attempts at it anyway. But being funny doesn’t feel right right now.
I have been thinking, in the last few weeks, about how many times most of us have said that phrase “Use Your Words” to our children. I have been thinking about how many times I have encouraged own my son to express himself verbally and how I should start taking my own advice. I have been thinking, like many of us, about free speech and the reasons why some of us don’t speak up and why we are going to have to change this. What follows is a pep talk, mostly directed to myself. I share it here in the hopes that, if you have been reluctant, it may nudge you to Use Your Words more now, too.
If you are ashamed and regretful about your own silence and complacency over the last year, or years, or maybe your whole lifetime, use your words. It is never too late to engage in the conversation. There’s truth in the cliché better late than never. Just because you haven’t been openly expressing your opinions doesn’t mean you don’t have them.
If you are afraid that people who disagree with your beliefs will no longer like you, or respect you, or love you, use your words. Trust that you can express your thoughts in a kind and open-hearted way. Hold fast to the words of Emerson, that “we all contain multitudes.” See other people’s multitudes and trust that others can see yours. If they cannot, start accepting that being liked isn’t always the most important thing.
If you tend to keep quiet about your ideas and ideals because you shy away from conflict, use your words. Don’t assume that it is going to be contentious and do everything in your power to make it not so. Commit yourself to not letting things become personal, to not let your anger escalate in a conversation, and to help allay that fear and anger in others. There have been grave misunderstandings, there have been blind spots, we have to share our thoughts in order to find common ground. And if things do become more heated than you are accustomed to? Then so be it, we have to do this for our children.
If you are hesitant to speak freely about your beliefs because you are confused or you don’t know enough about the issues, use your words. Your listeners, whether they agree with you or not, might be able to help educate you. Gradually, your knowledge and confidence are sure to build, especially if you are genuinely willing to learn and also willing to make mistakes. Talking things through might help to solidify your opinions or even change them.
If you see people doing good things, use your words to applaud them, to praise their good deeds and spread their accomplishments. On the flip side, if you are direct witness to evil, or hatred, or abuse, be ready to use your words in defense. In the cases when you are not direct witness, use your words with care, and seek as much proof as possible.
If you see someone who is struggling to use their words, use your own words to help them, perhaps in the form of questions. After all, what would we say to a child in this situation? Are you hurting? Are you angry? What can I do to help you? What do you need? If they still can’t find their words, look them straight in the eyes and say, “Okay. It’s okay,” and trust they will find their words eventually.
Finally, I would like to use my words here to thank everyone who has read this piece (and my usually more lighthearted column). Thank you to my friends, family, acquaintances and so many people I’ve never met for using their words in recent weeks and long, long before. I’d like to thank all the people around this great country who are following up their words with action. This holiday season, I am especially thankful for our freedom of speech and want to do everything I can to help secure it.
Jocelyn Jane Cox is a freelance writer and author. Her 2012 humor book on life in the New York suburbs, The Homeowner’s Guide to Greatness: How to handle natural disasters, design dilemmas and various infestations, is available on Amazon.com. Follow her on Twitter at @JocelynJaneCox.