"Your words saved my life." she said as tears welled in her eyes. "I have been in a very bad place for a long time and had made a decision. I am not proud, I have kids I know. I feel ashamed at myself but I have to tell you. After we spoke, I went away and thought about it and something shifted, I don't know but, I had changed somehow. I was stronger, I was strong enough."
Have you ever had a conversation with someone that changed you? The kind of conversation that shines a light on something that creates an aha moment, an epiphany? Have you ever spent an evening with someone that affected you so deeply that you will forever carry it with you, like every detail is seared into your memory, your soul? A bond you will always have between you.
Now, do you think the other person feels the same depth of connection, is the bond shared? We would like to think so wouldn't we, but I don't think it is true. It is like unrequited love, more important for one than the other. Not always, but sometimes.
How would it feel to think that one has such a deep connection with another only to find that the concversation has gone unremembered or worse, what if they do not remember you at all?
The woman in the first paragraph who felt her life had been saved by words, those words were mine. She was a student over a decade ago. I don't even remember her name now. The tears in her eyes and even her posture, but no name. If in that moment she had quizzed me about what we had spoken, I would have drawn a complete blank. If I saw her down the street today, I am just as likely to smile politely and move past a stranger as recognize her.
Do you think she would recognise me? Does this take away from the conversation? Am I a bad person for having not remembered. Should I feel guilty for having such an impact on someone's life and having no idea?
In this case it was a good impact, at least if you see life as something worth saving. What about the other times I have spoken and not known the impact on someone in the negative? Has it cost a life? I do not know. I am guessing those I hurt will rarely come forward to tell me, they will despise me from afar.
The thing I find interesting is that I did not save her life with my words. She saved her life with my words. This is not a simple reframing, it is the truth. No one can be hurt or helped with words, but someone can use those words to harm or help themselves.
Words are not a hand to pull one back from the edge of a cliff or a hand to push one over, but a mind can use them as such. A mind can make those patterned sounds very, very practical and real indeed.
This concept that words cut deep should be torn from any curriculum. It does too much harm. It takes the real agent, the individual, out of the equation and lays blame on an external other. This woman laid the blame of saving her life on me yet, I did nothing of the sort.
For her, she had to tell me. She had to let me know that it was me that saved her. She said I had a right to know. Know what? I was me, doing what I do, probably selfishly so. There was no intention to help her, no intention to harm her either. It was just a conversation like the thousands before it and the thousands that came after.
Should I be proud for accidentally saying words that led to her saving her own life? She did the work, she found meaning and used it to change her outcomes. She should be proud of herself for having the courage to rethink on new information after she had already made a decision.
She never needed me to say those words. She had the words within her all along, she just did not use them earlier. When she heard the words come out of my mouth, she translated them into her inner voice, turned them over, thought deeply, developed them further, made them her own. She made the words hers and inspired herself to move in another direction.
It is even possible she got the translation wrong, after all, this was in an English lesson. Does this mean that the conversation is of any less value? I think not. A mistaken understanding can save a life just as well as a successful translation can cost one.
This is the value of communication, conversation, collaboration. It is not to learn from others what they know, it is to teach yourself what you can learn from their words. Too often we remove our agency and attempt to learn from others what is right. But what we find within the folds of a conversation can add value that was never meant to be there and much more than was ever intended.
And they do not need to be motivational, inspirational or beautiful words. We can listen to the most amazing words and learn nothing if we do not internalize them, and we can be influenced by mediocrity if we do. The words that make our heads spin and churn as they get turned over and over in our mind are often the ones that give us the value. The ones that can save a life. Often, these are also the ones that are the hardest to hear. The ones that lead to personal truths.
But we are told to avoid negative people, avoid conflict, find those of a like mind to our own. Avoid rocking the boat less it capsize, stay out of the open water in case we lose sight of the land, which is familiar and solid in our thoughts. Surround ourselves with those that think like us, act and talk like us. Our own kind.
What if I am depressed, angry, violent and full of hate? I think I know what kinds of groups form when these people come together. And if I am devious, manipulative and power hungry? They form other groups that are not so hard to imagine.
If we choose to take agency again, use the words of others to discover the truths within rather than to influence our external actions, we will be better off on the whole. No words can cause grievance, no term offend. We can listen to them all openly and accept them into the churning waters of the mind, where even the most vile and vulgar of ideas, can have their energy absorbed and repurposed. No need for psychological safe zones, for safety is in the deconstruction of violence, not the avoidance of it.
For some that may read this, they will think these words are somewhat harsh and I am naive to believe that words are not dangerous. I never said they were not. Words are weapons to those that believe them to be and if one understands how to use the weapon well, the manipulations possible are incredible and terrible.
For ones that use them as tools, the learning possible can be incredible and beautiful..
This is why I am having this conversation today. Do not let words slip into the mental waters for processing without opting to be critical at all levels. It is too easy to make the words of others our own and act accordingly as if the ideas are ours. It is too easy to accept the popular view or absorb the surface coat and miss the value beneath.
When I think of that woman what comes to mind is whether she would ever talk to her husband or her kids about what she went through internally. Would she worry it would hurt them, or give them poor ideas. Or would she trust them to take agency, investigate and see if the words have value for themselves?
[ a Steem original ]
If these words helps or harm you, you did it. You really did.