"Use your words” began making the rounds as a direction to kids who were getting unruly and rowdy.
The words had various meanings:
In other words, “Don’t be mean. Don’t do violence.” Instead, use your words to make things
Talk to the other person.
Share your feelings.
Find common ground.
Sometimes the kids heard, “Use your inside voice,” which meant, “Don’t shout or yell!”
But there are other ways to “Use your words” – ways that are harmful, ways that can damage a person as much as hitting them – and the scars are much more long-lasting.
You can tear down with words:
“You’ll never amount to anything.”
“You’re a bad person and always will be.”
“Go away. I never want to see you again.”
“Damn you to hell.”
You can incite with words:
Like yelling “Fire!” in a crowded theater
Like encouraging those who already think they’ve gotten a bad shake in life to loot and burn
neighborhoods a la the Rodney King or Michael Brown mini-series.
Words can heal, too. You can use your words to inspire, to hearten, to build:
“You’re really good at this” can launch a kid on a whole new life path.
“You’re better than this” can turn a heavy heart bent on revenge back from destruction
and toward peace.
“You can do it” spoken at the right moment can make the difference between success and
“Go for it!” can unfold whole new worlds for the dreamer.
Words, words, words -- it’s how you use them that determines the future.
Written 12/2/14 by Diane Lee -- (This poem was written after hearing an NPR program discussing the question “Can poetry change the world?” and it was specifically in reference to situations like the Michael Brown situation in Ferguson, Missouri. The program featured Chicago poet Malcolm London, who read from his poem, “Never Too Late” and others. A caller to the program spoke of “using your words” to build or to tear down. That inspired this poem.)