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Updated: Nov 5, 2019

As discussed in my previous post, there is power in words. Many people believe that through words, one can speak positivity or negativity into existence; that words are so powerful, thinking and/or speaking something can cause it to manifest.

Whether you believe that deeply in the power of words or not, the fact is that many people allow words to have such power over their feelings and their behavior.

We all can point to at least one point in time when the words of someone else hurt our feelings, angered us, excited us, or raised some sort of emotion within us. There are many sets of circumstances when words led to emotions, emotions led to actions, and actions led to consequences. Sometimes that chain ends in devastation: Immature kid ridicules his classmate; Classmate’s feelings are hurt and he gets angry; Classmate brings gun to school and shoots multiple people; Classmate goes to prison or morgue. Other times that chain ends in joy: Teacher praises child’s work; Child feels proud and confident; Child studies more to maintain accomplishments; Child earns academic scholarship to college.

Words are meant to evoke emotions, and thoughts, and even actions. Society as a whole recognizes this and even plans for it. The US Supreme Court has held that there are certain words so inflammatory that if a speaker uses those words and is physically assaulted by the listener, the listener was duly provoked such that the physical attack should have been expected.[1]

If a white person calls a Black person a ‘nigger,’ considering the meaning and intent of using that word, no reasonable person could argue against the fact that its use might incite the Black person to anger and/or violence. If a man calls a woman a ‘cunt,’[2] considering the meaning and intent of using that word, no reasonable person could argue against the fact that its use might incite a woman to anger and/or violence.

However, it is also quite reasonable to argue that words alone, no matter what the word is, should not be enough to provoke another to violence. Barring some mental/brain issue (psychotic break, immaturity, etc.), people should be able to control their actions in the face of provocative words. No one should have enough power over you such that her mere words can control your behavior, thoughts, and/or emotions. Or, at least that’s the argument.

Before you form an opinion one way or another, take stock of your life and honestly consider whether the words of someone you’ve crossed paths with has incited you to action. Has a boyfriend or girlfriend’s words ever gotten you to change your hair, clothes, or behavior? Has a parent’s words caused you to reconsider a friend or a lover? If someone else’s words has led you to act, stop acting, or what have you, why? Is someone else’s words has not led you to act, not act, stop acting, etc., why not?

The most important point to consider (individually and societally) is whether there are certain words and certain circumstances when an individual or group is justified in allowing another’s mere words to move them to action—negative action that is?

[1]Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire 315 U.S. 568 (1942); Street v. New York 394 U.S. 576 (1969); Cohen v. California 403 U.S. 15 (1971); Gooding v. Wilson 405 U.S. 518 (1972); Lewis v. City of New Orleans 415 U.S. 518 (1974); R.A.V. v. City of St. Paul 505 U.S. 377 (1992); Snyder v. Phelps 562 U.S. 443 (2011).

[2]“Obscene: the female genital organs; sexual intercourse with a woman; usually disparaging and obscene.” “Cunt.” Merriam-Webster, 2019. Web. 6 March 2019.

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