The Weight of Words
August 20, 2012
“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”
Wanna make a bet? I’ve never agreed with that saying. For anyone who has been bullied before, words can do more damage than a machine gun.
Words have more power in the material world than we think. Japanese researcher Dr. Masaru Emoto revolutionized how we think about the energy of words when he published his work on how water crystals react to certain terms, photography or music.
The reaction the water had to the word peace looks like this:
The word truth had this response:
The negative term you fool gave the water crystal the following form:
I’m beginning to see a pattern here, are you?
Words in the form of fiction can also have an amazing influence on our lives. Through books, screenplays and short stories, we get to travel to far off worlds without leaving our easychair. In fact, Annie Murphy Paul reported for the New York Times about a York University study in Canada headed up by psychologist Ramyond Mar, that found “individuals who frequently read fiction seem to be better able to understand other people, empathize with them and see the world from their perspective.”
Darmouth College’s Geoff Kaufman teamed up with Lisa Libby at Ohio State University to prove that literature can truly have a profound impact on our self-understanding, attitudes and even behaviors. In the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (Vol. 103, No. 1, 1-19, 2012), they report on the phenomenon they’ve termed “experience-taking“. Essentially, you take on the fictional character’s experience as your own.
The neat thing is our brains can’t distinguish between reading about an experience and actually encountering it in real life, which is maybe why the more teary-eyed folks among us cry so easily when reading a good book or seeing a good movie (I am one of them. I admit. You know that scene in Spielberg’s 2011 flick, War Horse, where the British and the German soldiers gather together in no-man’s land to free the horse from the barbed wire fence in a momentary act of peace and purpose? Yea, I was bawling, people. Bawling I was!). If a book is good, I cry at the end too. It’s that empathy thing, like saying goodbye to a dear friend you won’t see for a long, long time.
Because in your mind, you are. Those characters are real, dammit! Who needs reality TV when you can enter a fantasy world by opening a book at any time?
If you have ever written fiction, you will know that those characters come knocking at your door at all hours of the night, wanting to be heard, formed and plopped into the storyline of your own creation. They can be pretty adament, too. I have a few slumbering in my head myself. Maybe I’ll let them out to play on the page a little more.
And when I do, you’ll get to be a part of the fantasy too.
For now, I offer you this three-minute video to illustrate the power of words. May you choose yours carefully and with all the kindness you possess.