In the 1970 film The Phantom Tollbooth, a young boy named Milo encounters King Azaz the Unabridged, the ruler of Dictionopolis, and as you might expect, this kingdom is overflowing with words. Every single word known to mankind is in this place, no matter what language it is. As King Azaz tells Milo, "You can't have one fine day without the day, could you?" There's even a scene where King Azaz calls for speeches, and it's NOT what you'd expect at all. If you want to find out what happens in this scene or in the entire film, go out and rent the DVD or find it on a streaming service. Chuck Jones did a great job with this film, though the sentiments aren't shared by the original author. Words are extremely important when you know how to use them, right? There's a reason why English classes and vocabulary tests are essential for learning, and that's to expand your knowledge and language of the vernacular. For instance, there's such joy to be found when a baby says their first word. It could be "mama" or "papa" or something else entirely. You'd think infants wouldn't pick up words very quickly, but you'd be surprised with how observant they can be. Especially if the words aren't what you'd expect them to hear at such a young age. Hence "careful the things you say, children will LISTEN." But it's more important than listening. It's observing and copying our parent's behaviors, whether it's good or bad. And more often than not, some of the things they say and teach their children may impact them for the rest of their lives. What we decided to do with what we are taught is up to us. We can have them ingrained in our minds forever or develop our own ideas to become our own individuals. When you think about it, our parents are passing down the spells, incantations, and lessons that were passed down to them from their parents and grandparents to us. Wait, what? Spells? Incantations? You mean to say that I come from a long line of witches and wizards? Well, not exactly. (Though many of us wish that were the case!) But you do possess a great power that you use each and every day. And that's WORDS.
Where do we get words from exactly? The number one place: books! (Dictionary included!) Following close behind are newspapers and magazines. We learn words in school and in our homes. We would slowly learn to pronounce them to ourselves and within our class with pictures as a guide. We engage with their meanings and use the words in sentences. We start to write our names and the words on paper or on the computer. We begin to articulate our thoughts, ideas, and feelings with words, in spoken language, or in composing letters. We listen to others speak words and copy what was said in our conversations, good or bad. Words are all around us, it seems. Here's a question that may have been asked in school: what do words do? Well, they do LOTS of things. They can inform us - "Stop," "go," "do not enter," "caution," "enter," you get the idea. They describe who or what an item or a person is - "beautiful," "helpful," "egotistical," "stubborn," "singer," "politician," "chef," you get the idea. They can form opinions, thoughts, lists, anecdotes, poetry, stories, songs, well-wishes, condolences, and more. They express feelings and needs in the tenderest or most blunt of ways. They inspire us to be the best versions of ourselves, even with our flaws. In essence, words do so many of those things, sometimes with their meanings and intentions combined together. They truly are a great power to have in our daily lives, and it can be a great source of healing, comfort, inspiration, beauty, direction, and guidance if we know how to harness their powers for good. And that's where all of us fall short. (Yes, I do mean ALL of us.) Yes, even I fall short of this from time to time, more than I'd like to admit. We don't always use words as a source of goodness and light to others, and more often than not, what we say or write to others in what we think is being right or asserting intelligence may come back to haunt us a hundredfold. Or worse, create such pain and humiliation that it can be too much to bear. Yes, the tone of voice does matter in a conversation, but shouldn't the words also be equally important? They can be just as much of a weapon in addition to being a salve. And do you know where the toughest place is to truly understand and harness the power of words for good and not for evil? The internet. Especially social media. The internet has been both a blessing and a curse to all of us who rely on it daily for work, school, entertainment, and relaxation. When it was first introduced back in the 90s, it seemed that the world's entire capsule of knowledge and information was presented to us at our fingertips, and we didn't even have to leave the comfort of our homes. (Well, that's not entirely true. If some people don't have internet access in their homes, they would have to go to the library or school for computer usage.) Since then, the internet became portable, being used on our smartphones, tablets, watches, even in our cars. We practically have the knowledge of the world in our hands, and we can access it whenever and however we want to. From there, MySpace was born, followed by Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, and more social media pages that are so numerous it's hard to tell which is which anymore. This proved to be a big boon to the internet as people can finally connect with others from within and outside their hometowns and communities, whether it's for personal or professional reasons. But with all of this vast knowledge and people from around the world coming to join the social media sites came a big problem. There isn't enough policing of what can be said or posted on the internet that doesn't offend or belittle others. And without the policing or implementation of rules of who can be on the social media pages or what can be posted, anyone and anything can be posted and seen on the internet. And I do mean ANYONE and ANYTHING. Some of the most horrifying, gross, embarrassing, and downright ridiculous images and articles became present to the eyes of the unsuspecting web user. What may be a friendly and considerate individual on social media may actually be a stalker, predator, sex offender, or just plain creep seeking out your information and possibly lure you into an unhealthy relationship. Or worse. Now, do you see why the internet is both a blessing AND a curse? And I haven't even gotten into what makes it a curse with words. On social media, you can connect with your friends and family who are either across the country or in your neighborhood. It's a great thing to be able to communicate with those in your circle when you can't always do that in person. You're also exposed to a wide variety of pages that can cover all sorts of topics - news, celebrities, travel, horticulture, arts & crafts, politics, food, movies, TV shows, music, you name it! When there's an article or a picture from one of those pages on a certain idea, topic, or story, many, if not all of them, of the social media sites, have a section for liking or loving what was posted, and an option to comment. Let's say you have something to say on the page that you wish to express to others. Half of the time, others can react to your comment in agreement and support. Some might even go as far as saying "I agree with what you have to say," and leave it at that. Or even respectfully offer their experiences that might be different from what you had to say. But say someone doesn't agree with you. The response can be stated in one or two ways. It can be stated in a respectful, mannerly way or it is spewed with words and curses that can make one's skin crawl or blood boil. Or both. You have a choice - first, you can either not reply and ignore what they have to say. Or you reply back respectfully and tell them to back down. But what if that doesn't work? The responder may come back harder and harsher and won't back down without getting the desired effect, which is to push your buttons and see you explode and crumble. And do you what's sad about this? It works both ways. We ourselves can become the agitators without even knowing it. And the words we say can come back and hurt us just as bad as what was initially said to us. Our power of words is now being used for evil, without an ounce of love involved.
Do you know what's really sad about this? I'm guilty of being both an agitator and a dark sorceress for words. And I'm sure all of you reading this are guilty as well. One of the biggest problems I encountered as I was first navigating through Facebook when I was in high school was a lack of filters for the topics shared online. I tend to REACT instead of THINK of what I wanted to say. I was a firm believer that if I was wronged in any way with a comment, picture, or disagreement, I had to prove that I was right and I wasn't about to back down. Do you know what really hurt me and forced me to give up a losing battle? The name-calling. Sometimes repeatedly, even after saying "go away" so many times. Imagine - grown adults resorting to name-calling in order to hurt others. The most recent adaptation of Cinderella was right about one thing: names do have power, like magic spells. The name-calling of Cinderella truly impacted Ella's life in so many ways, and it made her into a creature of ashes and toil. What's to say even harsher names and words won't do the exact same thing to you and me? And it's not just name-calling we heard in elementary school. It's heard in high school and colleges. It's heard from personal, dirty conversations that should remain private but are instead made public. It's heard from our conversations from within our families that may seem harmless to some but traumatic to others. No matter what a person is called, name-calling is a dark magic that should not be used at all, no matter who's right or wrong. We're all guilty of doing this, and there's no denying the pain of this spell being thrown back at us when we become the victims of it. There's no good that comes from it. Not in the least. Even yours truly has done this, and I've also been a victim of it even when I wrote my words carefully and thought about what I wanted to say before flying off the handle. You don't believe me, do you? Well, let me tell you some of what I'm about to say may shock you, but it's time to put it out in the open once and for all. *When I first joined Facebook, I didn't understand the meaning of "not sharing everything" with an audience. I shared EVERYTHING, down to the last detail. If there was an event I was holding that no one attended, or I was left all alone after everyone else had left, I let them know in the cruelest of terms. Of course, I didn't begin to see how much pain I was inflicting upon them or how selfish I was. All I cared about was my feelings and what I wanted, and not focusing on how others would feel or respond. I was very immature when I first started out. *In 2016, I got into a lot of fights with people on political topics. One particular fight resulted in someone I didn't know calling me all sorts of names, like "dummy," "idiot," "stupid," "snowflake," even "Libtard." I finally had to block them from doing any more damage. *In that same year, one of my friends was standing by one candidate and I tried to tell her it wasn't a good idea to support someone who uses their platform in ways that much of the nation didn't agree with. Then, her husband stepped in and said some harsh words to me. I politely told him that this conversation was between me and my friend, but he didn't back down. He proceeded to hurt my feeling by questioning my intelligence among other things, and I proceeded to not only give him some choice words of my own but also blocking him and my friend because she didn't stand up for me. I cried after that exchange. *After the election was over, I wrote a message to one of my friends with different political views and told her I hoped that she was happy with how it turned out because I wasn't. I also told her that I wasn't going to stop fighting for what was right. She proceeded to unfriend me several days later. Even after apologizing to her for my actions four years later, I'm not sure if she wants me back into her life. After what I said to her and the arguments I had with her on politics, I can understand why. *One of my favorite shows was Once Upon A Time, and it was ending after seven seasons. I belonged to a fan page where we could discuss what was going on, and I thought it would be cool to ask a question about the series finale. Basically, I asked if anyone would be watching it, and most of the responses were pleasant. Except one. One of the admins said she wouldn't watch it because she didn't agree with the treatment of her favorite couple. I thought I sounded respectful and told her politely to reconsider because they may give her favorite couple a happy ending. She disagreed. We went back and forth until I finally had enough and blocked her. That lead to me being banned from the fan page by her husband messaging me directly, so I left. I went to one of the other admins and explained what happened. But from what she heard and saw she thought that I was being harsh. I tried explaining myself repeatedly and insisting that I wasn't being harsh or selfish. I was then blocked by her. I finally went to the head admin of the page and explained what happened several days to a week later, and even going as far as apologizing for what I said and did in order to calm things down. I even stated that I was resorted to being banned for the rest of my life. The admin appreciated what I had to say and would have a meeting to discuss what the next steps would be. A month passed without a response when I contacted her again. She told me things were busy and would get around to it. Several more months passed and again I didn't hear back from her. I tried one more time to ask for an update. I didn't hear back from her this time. Most recently, I apologized to the admin that I inadvertently hurt and hoped for a response from her. But the damage was done and I never got a response back from her or any of the other admins I apologized to. That broke my heart. *On the Ellen show page, there were pics of kids crying on Santa's lap. I asked a simple question as to why parents would wait in line for hours on end only to have their kids crying on Santa's lap when they should know that after a certain time kids would become restless and tired. I didn't find it the least bit funny like so many others did. I then got several mothers lecturing me on why they did it and that I didn't understand anything that they went through to make sure their kids got pictures with Santa. *On Instagram, there would sometimes be comments from posts that would appear that I don't agree with. I would make my point, and then leave it alone. But sometimes I would REACT as opposed to THINKING before I spoke, and I would get a tongue lashing from someone I didn't know. That would humble me real quick. *Most recently, I described a pretty stressful day and thanked everyone for their concern. I had posted pics of my mom and some pics of our apartment. Someone I knew from college decided to comment and say that my situation is not scarier than COVID-19, as well as calling me out for still living with my mom. I proceeded to block her on Instagram, but she somehow messaged me on Facebook Messenger and say that "you think it's all about you," and "you're 35 and you still live with your mom." (I'm 32, by the way.) She then proceeded to call me a b****. I tried messaging her back on Facebook, but somehow she got away and shut down her account before I could reply. I then unblocked her on Instagram and gave her a direct message of my own, saying how she hurt my feelings and that it wasn't right to make assumptions about me. After sending the message, I blocked her again. Another comment on the same post told me that my mom and I needed to lose weight. (Um, I just lost 70+ pounds, FYI.) I told that person to go away before blocking him, too. I then proceeded to take the post down before any more damage could happen and I would get hurt again. I once again cried after this exchange. And the list goes on and on. I'm not a saint by any stretch of the imagination, and these stories and more are proof of that. What I thought was polite and respectful in my eyes can actually be condescending and hurtful to others. So, the phrase is true - words CAN hurt. Do you know what I dislike the most about social media along with the words hurting others through name-calling? It's the cursing and swearing used so frequently by people, sometimes every other word which is befuddling to me. I don't curse or swear in public, but if I do, I would use words like "crap," or "dagnabit." It makes me uncomfortable, and it should make others uncomfortable as well. I get that there may be health benefits to having a foul mouth, but I'm probably one of the small percentages of people who just don't see it. (Now before you say anything, if there's a role I'm reading for that has any curse or swear words in it, I will do it for the audition and show. But that's as about as far as I will go. I won't curse or swear in public because I know firsthand how much it hurts and offends others as well as myself.) It's a real shame what social media has done to us. We can't even act like grown adults and have a proper conversation without resorting to name-calling or disagreements in ways that are immature. It's as if we are another individual other than ourselves where we can act however we want to because there are no filters or limitations. Whatever happened to "acting like your age"? Does that matter to anyone anymore? (Like the blog posts that came before this, these are just my opinions, thoughts, and observations. You are welcome to disagree with anything I say, but I do have one request. If you do disagree, please act your age and don't resort to name-calling or any other hurtful language. Words CAN hurt, and it works both ways.) Boy, that was heavy. But there are ways to navigate through social media without using the power of words for evil. It may work for some, but it may not work for others. Either way, these tips are out there for you to do whatever you wish. The first thing you can do when you share a post on social media is not to share every single detail about your life. Nobody needs to know all and every secret of your life! Try to keep it to stories and posts that are relatable to others, as well as share the things, events, and people that matter to you the most. If there are people, things, events, causes, or even the humdrumness of life that you want to share, I say go for it! But please be careful about what you post and the hashtags that accompany the posts. You never know who it may attract, and it's not always pretty. If you do decide to comment on a post or story, remember to stick to your convictions. But also be open-minded about the different points of view that may come your way. We're all individuals and we should each have opinions about the things that matter to us, or don't matter to us. But please try to act like adults and not children. Don't resort to name-calling, cursing, or swearing to get your point across. Remember that whatever job we have is what we DO, but being human is who we ARE, and it impacts each and every one of us no matter where we are or how much money we make, or what our status is. If you receive a not so pleasant comment, you have a choice. You can either respond with a snarky or "on the attack" comment, or you can do something that's even stronger than responding. And that's simply ignoring it and walking away. You don't always have to respond to comments all the time. Take the time to look at the comments posted and figure out a pattern of the responses. If they're not worth your time responding to or even posting an initial comment, it's probably not a good idea to try to instill some sense into those who posted already. You do have the option to report them for harassment or block them if they won't stand down or leave you alone. But remember this - you could be blocked or reported as well if you keep pushing buttons for others as well. Here's something to remember as you navigate through social media: there are people out there who live and breathe being on all of the platforms without going out into the real world away from their computer and phone screens. They're the type of people who thrive on picking fights with random strangers, name-calling, and every awful thing under the sun. "Trolling" is what comes to mind. If you run into these people, avoid them at all costs. Report them if you must, but do your best to stay away from trying to reason with them because they're just that stubborn and won't listen. Their only goal is to push your buttons to get the reaction they want from you, and that's seeing you crumble. Don't give them that satisfaction. There are certain topics that push your buttons and get under your skin too much. Whether it's religion, politics, parenthood, entertainment, or whatever you see on social media, you do have a choice to stay away from those pages and comments that go with them. You don't have to respond to every single topic out there, and even if you did, you're increasing your chances of getting hurt by words and more frustrated when someone pushes your buttons too much to get the desired effect they want to see. Stay away from the pages, people, and topics that you know give you a hard time and the responses you see drive you crazy. It is okay to say "no" and step away. Some social media sites have filters where you have the option of hiding certain people, phrases, or words from your view whenever you go on. As far as I know, Facebook has this option, but it only works on Chrome and Firefox and not Safari. It's a free extension and it has made my viewing so much easier and not so stressful. However, you have to be careful with this because what you think might be a harmless post from someone might be hidden because that word or phrase you requested was requested to be filtered out. These are just some tips and suggestions on how to make your social media experience a pleasant one. If you have any more ideas I didn't cover, send them my way! Words are truly your greatest asset in this lifetime. No matter where you get them from, they are truly magical if you know how to use them. Sadly, in this age of technology and distant connections through social media, we often forget that words can do more harm than good if used for evil and division. And we also discover that there are some out there who don't act their age and resort to name-calling and cursing and swearing. I'm guilty of using the power of words for evil, and I'm pretty sure you are guilty of this as well. But you don't have to stoop to anyone's level if they hurt you. You do have a choice, and you can use your knowledge and power to turn that spell of hatred into an incantation of love and hope. I believe that someday there will be a lightbulb that lights up over everyone's head and allows them to see just how powerful words can be, and to make an effort to understand the different points of view, respect others, and bow down gracefully without resorting to being immature and cruel to others. As the Scarecrow so eloquently put it, "Well, some people without brains do an awful lot of talking, don't they?" Words can be so many things in our lives and the ways we acquire them are limitless. They truly are special to us and can make some of the most wonderful incantations and spells if we know how to cultivate them for good, not for evil. This year, discover the power of words for uplifting, informing, inspiring, encouraging, helping, and reaching others. They can create so many wonderful things and feelings within each of us if used in this way. If we used words to offend, divide, antagonize, hurt, and belittle others without any thoughts of what the other person will feel like when that is returned back at us, what's the point of using this power at all? Think of the possibilities with words, but also think before you speak, write, or even react at all. It can make all of the difference in the world. And remember to be kind to one another.