I must remember that words are responsibilities.
It is not true, by the way, that it is a free country (or a free world) and I can say or write anything that I please. A single word or phrase may have the power to heal or to hurt. I love the way Ursula K. Le Guin puts this in her fantasy novel, The Farthest Shore:
Do you see how an act is not, as young men think, like a rock that one picks up and throws, and it hits or misses, and that’s the end of it. When that rock is lifted, the earth is lighter; the hand that bears it heavier. When it is thrown, the circuits of the stars respond, and where it strikes or falls, the universe is changed.
That reminds me of the Filipino saying Bato bato sa langit, ang tamaan ‘wag magalit. I’m throwing a stone in the sky. I don’t mean to hit anyone. But then it might. So whoever gets hit, I just hope you know that it’s your problem, not mine. Usually it is said (often flippantly) before or after saying something that may be controversial or offensive.
But with a single word, self-esteems or relationships can be irreparably damaged.
And then again, there is very little benefit in the opposite. And silence, in a way, may be even more harmful than words, if only because it is more ambiguous. To some, silence implies consent. To others, disapproval. Sometimes silence is lost opportunity to express one’s mind.
This does not sit well with me, who is alternately overly cautious and then reckless with words. I deeply regret every word that I have ever said that could have been released with more thought, as well as every silence I have kept that perhaps could have change things. It seems that I am a ping-pong ball constantly flying back and forth between these two extremes.
It is a fact that many people are unfortunately gullible and will believe nearly anything they read or hear. And unfortunately the a whole lot of responsibility falls upon those who are articulate or authorized to dispense information to make sure that these “many people” are not misinformed.
Stories change lives. We must be careful about the stories we tell, but we must also make sure that they are told. And that’s one tough job.