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The Weight of Words

When news recently broke of Caroline Flack’s death, thousands flocked to social media to express their disbelief. In sombre posts, users celebrated the former Love Island presenter’s traits: her natural vivacity, warm aura, bright smile and impressive presenting skills.

If someone hadn’t been following the news for quite some time, they would understandably get the impression that Flack was a much-loved television personality, and perpetually so.

But, before her death, she had been accused of abusing her boyfriend and subjected to incessant smear articles in both tabloids and magazines alike. This resulted in many social media users vilifying her, despite having no concrete evidence of abuse having taken place.

So, unable to cope with all the speculation and upset the predicament was bringing her, Caroline Louise Flack took her own life at the tender age of 40.

Our higher mind should know when something is utterly abhorrent – and someone writing a sensationalist article about a bloodied bed is utterly abhorrent, is it not?

Many individuals  are still vilifying her on apps such as Twitter and Facebook, saying people reap what they sow. They’re claiming Flack felt guilty for committing assault – an act that has yet to be proven – and deserved every single one of the printed and virtual attacks.

Now, I cannot be the only one who thinks it’s strange that members of the general public, who were never directly introduced to Flack while she was alive, believe a few newspaper articles have provided them with the intel required to pass judgement on her situation?

What’s more, even if the legal officials were going to have found Flack guilty of assault, there was a legal process at play that should have been upheld and respected by everyday citizens; a legal process that should have remained clinical, not sensationalised by mass media.

Basic sociology teaches us the impact of socialisation in our lives: the process of internalising norms, behaviours and ideologies from various sources within society. So, to some extent, the conversations we have can be attributed to the ways in which messages have been emitted by the mass media.

But the last time I checked, we also have free will, and an enduring sense of integrity that runs right to the bone. Our higher mind should know when something is utterly abhorrent – and someone writing a sensationalist article about a bloodied bed is utterly abhorrent, is it not?

You see, we have to start respecting the fact that words carry great weight.

When we don’t question the candour or morality behind certain pieces, and blindly accept their content as truth, an issue is presented. When we then send a Tweet to an already vilified celebrity, calling them all the names under the sun because we chose to believe what we read about them, an even bigger issue is presented.

You see, we have to start respecting the fact that words carry great weight. In many cases, they tend to be more detrimental than physical weapons, because whilst physical wounds can heal, the wrong word can stain the lining of someone’s mind indefinitely.

Talking to our girlfriends at brunch about how repulsive the waitress is isn’t exactly going to make the waitress feel good about herself, and such horrible language will likely affect her confidence in the long run.

Making an anonymous online profile just to tell Nicola McClean her breasts look disgusting is only going to add to the consortium of trolls she already has to deal with, and may cause her to deactivate her account.

Really, what may seem like a flippant armchair comment can snowball into an eviscerating tool of destruction. We may consider ourselves thick-skinned, but not everyone in this world is going to have the same level of shielding along their perimeters.

With this logic, then, you might be wondering if we should say anything at all in any given situation. How often should we bite our tongues?

Well, keeping certain thoughts to oneself is undoubtedly an option. It’s highly unlikely a grieving friend would appreciate a nonchalant reference to their deceased mother over breakfast in an attempt to provide comfort.

Finding the right words, and the right time to utter those words, can be very difficult.

The wrong words can send someone into a massive spiral of upset, yes. But the right words can transport a lot of support to the people who need it most.

However, I want us to recognise that this logic isn’t suggesting the power of words is intrinsically bad. The wrong words can send someone into a massive spiral of upset, yes. But the right words can transport a lot of support to the people who need it most.

They can offer aloe vera for mental wounds. They can fly into the centre of hearts and, when people feel ready to give it all up, rise into the conscious mind and act as reminders of all the love stored in this world.

A distraught person could be one affirmation away from achieving peace. So, by simply changing the tone and trajectory of our everyday vernacular, we have the power to save psyches.

In this pursuit of saving psyches with positive words, we can also use these positive words to dismantle harmful, negative ones.

After Caroline Flack’s death, salons up and down the country removed glossy gossip magazines from their tables and replaced them with travel brochures or booklets on mindfulness. Now, most of us don’t own a salon, but we can definitely mirror this approach elsewhere in our lives.

For example, if we’re with a group of friends at the local coffee shop and the conversation takes an unkind turn, a positive action would be to change the topic.

We don’t even have to label the discussion as openly mean. We could simply say something along the lines of, “Hey, I’ve just remembered, are we all packed for Greece tomorrow?”, and spare a thought for other’s mental health without even having to incite an argument.

Verbal bullying will still claim lives. Sensationalist media will continue to drain celebrities’ psyches. But we mustn’t let this reality deter us all from trying to cultivate a language of kindness.

Really, what it all comes down to is how careful we are with the words we use and the words we allow to be used around us.

Sadly, however, since many people stubbornly underestimate the sheer power words possess, it remains unlikely that profound change will happen any time soon.

Verbal bullying will still claim lives. Sensationalist media will continue to drain celebrities’ psyches. But we mustn’t let this reality deter us all from trying to cultivate a language of kindness.

There is a Caroline Flack in every country, every city, every block of apartments as we speak – and they’re crying out for words that are carried on the wings of doves themselves.

Ryan James Keane

Featured image courtesy of  duncan c via Flickr. No changes made to this image. Image license found here

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