Funny how the things we know about ourselves, and are conscious of all the time, are the most difficult to put into written words. ___Stan
This quote was left as a comment on my last blog. And I agree with it whole heartedly. Just as it is somewhat easy to find definitions for a friend or an acquaintance, but becomes oh so difficult to find them for ourselves, finding words to define ourselves and then writing them down, is even more difficult to do. Why is it the hardest thing to do when, as Stan says, we know these things and are conscious of them all the time? I think there are many answers and even layers within those answers.
The first one that comes to mind is fear. As long as something is in my head, it belongs to me alone unless I choose to share it. As long as it is only in my head, It’s just that, in my head. But bringing it out transforms it. Makes it different. Doesn’t necessarily change its meaning (although it definitely can), but it certainly alters its value. Inside, it has no value to anyone but myself, because no one else knows it. But outside, because it is personal, it can be used against me. In the hands of another it can become a tool or weapon to control, use, abuse, or dominate me. But, we are speaking about just words here, right? Words have power. Sharing them means sharing the power as well.
Have you ever had your words thrown back at you? I have, and it can be a delightful compliment, even funny, but can also be extremely wounding depending on the tone of voice and the intent of the wielder of those words. In ancient times, there was a belief that when you gave your name to another, you entered into an obligatory relationship with that person. That meant that that individual could come to you and demand that you owed him something, simply because he knew your name. You were obliged to give what was asked for. You were expected to stand behind your name, because your name was a definition that went far beyond simple meaning. It told the world not just who, but what you were. That may have to do with why, in later centuries, it became a high level priority to keep ones good name, to protect the family name from any and all scandal or besmirchment.
That transformation of value is even more apparent when we write the words, not just speak them. Writing those words, gives them shape, form, substance. It makes them real. And therein, lies the problem of difficulty we are addressing. As long as the words are only in my head, I don’t need to do anything about them and the knowledge they impart. I don’t have to act on them. Speaking them brings them out in the open, but writing them makes them my responsibility. It isn’t an accident that we say we are committing something to paper. We are. We are committing ourselves, entering ourselves into an obligatory relationship with those words. And before this gets too heavy and I freeze someone in the act of doing so, this all occurs in our heads.
From the time we are young, we have a distinct relationship with words, whether they are spoken or written. We are actually encouraged to respect both forms of communication and we do, for the most part. However, within the socialization process we must all take part in, there are definite glitches. Remember those layers I spoke of earlier? This is one of them. Along with respect, we also learn fear. We know that although they are only words, they can and do harm us on occasion. If we have been told repeatedly that children should be quiet and not speak, we are doubly afraid to go one step further and write, put those words out there where someone might actually see them, and hold us accountable.
Each of us has unique experiences during the process of growing up. And each of us has specific fears about the words we wield. The spectrum runs from total silence to a raging shout. And we can do all of them on paper, as well. Just as in the process of learning to write, we are taught that how we do the thing is more important than what we have to say, along with how we speak, we also learn that it is important to be very careful about what we speak. And many of us are taught, by repeated admonitions, that there are whole worlds of things we should never speak about at all. It may be only intimated that dire consequences will ensue, but we definitely get the message.
When I was growing up, we got the message that we were never to speak about sex. That’s right, never. It was a taboo subject. Yet, each of us was also encouraged to find a specific mate, get married, and produce children. On my twenty-first birthday, a group of us went out to a bar which was featuring a female comedienne. She did an entire act about how, as a young girl growing up, at every turn her mother would whisper, “Don’t do it.” Half-way through the act, most of the crowd was joining in on the punch line and shouting, “Don’t do it.” Then on her wedding day, as the girl was about to depart with her new husband, her mother stands before her and yells, “Now, you can do it!” Do it? What is it? Major glitch, yes? I laughed all the way through her act. But, inside, I knew it was far too real to be all that funny.
In today’s world, we often hear the phrase, “Get it in writing.” We are actually acknowledging that there is far more power in the written word than in a spoken promise or agreement. But, just because words are written on paper, that doesn’t automatically mean they are now carved in stone. Paper can be easily burned, torn to shreds, packed away in an attic, or left completely blank. When we are writing them in a journal, we are exploring, making discoveries, experimenting with the words themselves. Yes, we are committing ourselves, but only to the exploration of possibilities. We are trying them on to see if they fit. Far better to do that in private, don’t you think?
Because we are exploring, we always have the freedom to change our minds. But, if we never get those words onto the paper, we may never see them clearly, or actually know exactly how they fit, and why or why not. They remain up in our heads and we never have to do anything about the ideas they speak of and to. We can stay within the boundaries of our own little comfort zones and stagnate. Or we can commit ourselves to the exploration of the words. Preversely, I believe that if we don’t, we are carving them in the stone hard ground of our minds, always accompanied by that devilish whisper of, “Don’t do it.”