Words Matter

My friend Danny has this great saying whenever he is crafting a public communication message.

“Words matter.”

What he means is that the verb we use, the adjectives employed to describe our statement, and the preposition we select all communicate something specific. So our task as communicators is to select the words that best correspond to our intended meaning.

Why does he put so much time into this?

Because words matter.

@instagram On @twitter?

This phrase came to mind as I was listening to a podcast between The Ringer’s Bill Simmons and Twitter founder, Jack Dorsey. Apparently, when Instagram was beginning to ascend to the upper echelon of the tech/web world, Jack had a chance to purchase and integrate it into Twitter’s universe. Jack was not only an early investor in instagram, but he also hired instagram’s founder as an intern years prior. Jack ultimately decided against burying instagram and offered this explanation of the decision:

I think there’s just something so powerful about text because it gets at thinking directly. You cant get the vibe of how someone thinks necessarily through an image or video. Text is really fast…its to the point…its just so close to our thinking process…and I think its so beautiful beautiful.

What is Jack saying? Words matter. Actual text is what is closely related and linked to our thinking process.  Or our processing process. 

Elsewhere I have seen this same idea pop up.  In his book How To Think, Alan Jacobs writes this of words:

Words are immensely seductive, in ways we don’t often recognize. Their power can perhaps most clearly be seen in young children, who become fascinated by new words and look for every possible opportunity to use them. Now, in fact, adults are no different in this respect: we just have learned to do a better job than our younger counterparts of obscuring our fascination, of pretending that a phrase brand new to us has been part of our word hoard forever. Oh, this old thing? But we turn the shiny new phrases over and over in our minds, as a miser fondles the coins in his pockets.

Practical Examples Of Words Mattering

The point I am trying to make is that words articulated are the chief metric that thinking has been accomplished.  It answers the question, “How do I know if I have thought enough about this in a healthy or productive manner?”  And the answer is, “Whenever you can begin to put your thoughts into words.”  

Let me provide a few examples of how we all know this to be true.

  1. Let’s say you head to an art exhibit in a museum or storefront art house.  Walking around, you can admire the paintings and even gather some basic impressions of how the paintings subjectively strike you.  But, suppose the artist walks up to you and asks if you like his or her painting?  And suppose you say yes.  And suppose the author then begins to explain the context around the painting — the season of life that inspired it, the intent of the artist, the hope of the communication, the description of particular strokes and colors.  Or, suppose you find a little placard to the side of the paining that provides context and date and goal.  At this point, you have moved beyond a subjective impression of the art towards a richer and more objective understanding of what the art is trying to communicate.  In a sense, you have begun thinking with the author about the work of art.  And what is it that moved you beyond your subjective expereince?  Text.  Words. Context. Words matter. 
  2. Or, suppose you have some deeply affecting personal experience in your life that you have been slowly and subconsciously considering in the back of your mind.  Perhaps it was a traumatic event or childhood wound.  And suppose you discover a trustworthy counseling group in your town. And suppose you show up for a few sessions of talk therapy with a counselor and that counselor has you begin to process together about that expereince.  And suppose you expereince breakthough and are able to move past this expereince in your life. What has happened in that session to help you jump over this life hurdle?  You have talked about it.  You have put the experience into words and then begin to use some word tools to help you reframe and understand and process through things.  Words matter. 

The Bible and Words

I find it interesting that when God comes to earth, He chooses to come as The Logos, or the Word.  In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God – John 1:1. God doesn’t just love human beings through some mystical invisible expereince.  He loves human beings in a way they can measure and process and understand. He uses words.  

  • He is The Word.
  • He physically wrote down one of the first typefaces in the Hebrew alphabet on the Ten Commandments. Then He gave it to Moses.
  • He inspired Moses and David and others to WRITE DOWN the Hebrew Scriptures.
  • He inspired Matthew and Mark and Paul and others to WRITE DOWN the Christian Scriptures.  

Because God matters. And because He wants us to know that we matter…God made words matter. And He uses Words to love us and to call us into lives that matter. 

About Doug Hankins

Although not a Christian in his youth, Doug came to believe in Jesus during his teenage years. When not playing sports or pastoring Doug is probably spending time with his wife, reading a good book, or drinking some hot tea. Doug's first book Dawson Trotman: In His Own Words is available wherever books are sold. You can follow Doug on twitter.
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