Talk, as they say, is cheap. We can call it “addressing the issue” or “disseminating information” if we want to label it, but far too often words are simply layers of gauze we wrap around an issue we don’t — or can’t — deal with effectively.

We can still see the issue, and the issue can still see us, but when words are used simply to obscure or diffuse a situation then they cheapen the value of the issue and all those concerned. When words are reduced to rhetoric, they lose their weight, their power to convey sincere thought, and become nothing more than noise. But words are powerful things, nonetheless; and the “noise” of empty words still harbor the ability to set the gauze ablaze.

This is never more true than when words are used as weapons, to placate or deny, or worse still to escalate a situation to violence. Words in both the right and the wrong hands generate powerful images. In ancient times people believed that to name something — to utter the word representing it — was to call it into existence; and though perhaps not in the way they thought that belief is true.

Regardless of the motivation of the speaker or the hand that holds the pen, words cause people to act either in defense or contention. Words have the power to build up or tear down, to heal or to maim, according to the intent of those who utter or write them.

Used as carelessly as some do, words can be a lit match tossed upon a sea of gasoline.

Words are shaped by thoughts, and in turn shape the thoughts of others. For every word that uplifts us and gives society the hope to improve, there is another word that darkens our lives and splinters society.

This is because our thoughts can be both light and dark, good and bad, often so intertwined that even we ourselves might fail to truly differentiate one from the other. We react rather than act, and hurl words at one another like stones. We wound to keep from being wounded, hate because we are hated, and kill because we fear being killed. The words summon the deeds, and the deeds sometimes perpetuate the reality we fear. But it does not have to be this way.

Society should be the product of our collective thoughts, and each thought should carry as much weight as every other thought. It is only through a dialogue of equals that this can be achieved, and a society can only thrive when all its parts are considered equal. Words such as racism and the thoughts it generates are a moral poison that threatens society at its very core, because it ensures that there can be no dialogue between equals when any part is considered unequal to any other part. Inequality leads to injustice, and injustice is a wound at the heart of society.

The current social unrest — the outrage at injustice — has galvanized people across our country in a way seldom seen. Voices are raised in protest, supported by many. Other voices are raised against those protests, also supported by many. Words and the images they bear fill the airwaves and are emblazoned upon signs, and the opposite is also true. In the midst of the great noise we must choose our words wisely and be certain they are true and honest, and that our thoughts are not lost and swept away. And we must also choose to hear the words of others, even — especially — if they show us an unpleasant truth about ourselves and others.

Perhaps most importantly we need to choose a single word together; and if we speak it often enough, if we write it and type it, if we paint it in tall-enough letters, its meaning will cease to be lost in the sea of noise. We each need to own it, we each need to share it as though our very lives depend upon it because they do.

Our lives and the lives of our children and children's children in every family across the globe. And maybe, someday, we will earn the right to the word “humane,” and all the thoughts it generates. When we reach that point, superficial differences will lose their meaning, and true Justice will become the foundation of our society.

Reach CHARLES ROMANS at cromans@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2655.

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