Written across the banner photo on my home page is the phrase, “Words create worlds.” As a writer of fantasy, this phrase holds significance for me on an obvious level. Much of my job is world building, creating new landscapes with my words. But this phrase has come to have greater significance for me.
At the end of each school year, I give the same lesson to my students, the first words of which are this familiar phrase: “Words create worlds.”
As an English teacher, I’ve spent the year emphasizing to my students the power of language when wielded with precision and care. Mostly this discussion has remained in the sphere of dry academicism. This is still important—I want my students to achieve their academic and career goals, and strong communication skills will propel my students to greater success—but more important to me is how my students use language in their everyday lives.
While I am pessimistic at times about politics, about change efforts on a national or global scale, I’m extremely optimistic about the transformative power of interpersonal relationships. I believe that people who live purposefully can part this world with a wake, and they change all of us in their passing. I want to be that sort of person. Despite my repeated failures, I try my best to keep that aim centered in my focus. I want my students to be those sorts of people as well. It starts with how they use language.
Our words change the way we view ourselves and others. Words of love can uplift those around us, and a biting remark can pierce them with barbs. An offhand remark can implant a lie that poisons a person’s sense of self-worth, and a heartfelt compliment can awaken the truth in people of their inherent value. Used correctly, our words can sow the seeds of insurrection of love and grace that have a ripple effect that changes lives.
Looking around at the world, it’s obvious that this approach to life is sorely needed. In recent years the streets of cities across the globe have erupted with riots. Public discourse on any topic reverts almost instantly to demonizing opponents, drawing hard lines of division to separate us from them. We see this in our politicians and newscasters, our internet forums and podcasts. But more than that we see it closer to home. We see it in ourselves.
But if our words create worlds, we must take care not only to avoid these negative paradigms with our language, but also to speak purposefully into the void messages of positivity and grace. All of us are surrounded by people sorely in need of a kind word. There is much truth in the old adage: Be kind to all that you meet, for we are all in the midst of a great battle.
I appreciate giving this lesson every year because it serves also as a reminder for myself. I conclude my lesson each year by giving each of my students a written compliment, and every time I’m reminded of the power of such compliments. I’m also reminded of how rarely I use my language so purposefully with this intent. There are so many people in my life whom I value deeply, but seldom do I take the time to give voice to these feelings.
This was cast into harsh relief for me recently. A dear friend of mine was given a few months to live after years of battling cancer. In the weeks that followed this pronouncement, I, along with scores of others, wrote messages and letters that expressed what he meant to us. I was so thankful for the opportunity, and luckily I delivered my letter to him before he passed away. It was significant for my friend to receive this outpouring of love, and it was significant for us to be able to express it.
This opportunity to express words of love is always before us. Words create worlds. Let us use them well.