Jenna Black's Blog Experiment

Wherein romance author Jenna Black plunges into the terrifying new territory of blogging . . .


Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Power of Words

Everyone knows the old saying “the pen is mightier than the sword.” I suppose it's not much of a surprise that I believe that, seeing as I'm a writer. Even when I was a kid, I scoffed at “sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” Words can be dangerous weapons, and kind of like the gun you were playing with but didn't know was loaded, they can hurt people when you don't even mean them to.

I recently had an experience of words hurting me even when they (probably) weren't intended to, and it got me in a pensive mood, thinking about things people have blithely said to me without realizing the damage they were doing. (And I'm sure I'm guilty of this too, no matter how hard I try to think about--and sometimes overthink--my words.) I always wonder how they could possibly not realize they were saying something hurtful, but since I can't rummage around in their minds--unlike certain characters I write about can--I'll never know.

The most egregious example I have occurred several years ago at my day job. My father had leukemia, as well as a host of smoking-related diseases. Nothing was at the point of completely disrupting his life yet, but we knew things were only going to get worse as time went on, and he was terminally ill. As I'm sure you can imagine, this was a very stressful time for me. (Especially since my mother was gravely ill at the same time!)

People at my day job knew about what was going on with my parents, and for the most part, everyone was very supportive, especially when my dad had to go into the hospital for some surgery. And then, there was my supervisor at the time, who will remain nameless. Nameless stopped by my office one day to ask how my father was doing. I gave him an update on my father's condition, at which point Nameless asked me how old my father was. I told him that he was 73. And then, Nameless said, and this is a direct quote because the words were seared into my brain: “Oh, then he's on bonus time.”

He went on to say some other things that were very insensitive, but I'd mostly stopped listening as soon as those words left his mouth. He'd proven before that there was no filter between his brain and his mouth, but never anything quite this bad. I mean, what was his point? That since my dad was old, it was okay for him to die?? (Never mind that my dad wasn't exactly a geezer!) As a writer, I spend lots of my time trying to put myself into the heads of characters who are nothing like myself--that's one of the joys of writing, at least to me. But I've never been able to figure out what was going on in Nameless's head that he thought it was okay to say something like that.

So yes, words can most definitely hurt, even when they aren't meant to. (And no, just because someone's feelings are hurt by words doesn't mean they are oversensitive.)


At 4:24 PM, Blogger daydream said...

Ouch! That was definitely stupid thing to say! If someone say that in front of me about my family I would be up tearing through his insides. Stupidity is to be exterminated.

At 10:39 AM, Blogger Sonja Foust said...

Wow, that WAS bad.

On the other hand, I'm usually the one having to remove my foot from my mouth or trying to explain what I MEANT when I said whatever I said that inadvertently upset someone. But I don't think I've ever said anything QUITE as bad as Nameless, even by accident.

At 7:43 PM, Blogger Marcia Colette said...

Rats! I wish I was there to withness that. I would've been more than happy to respond with, "Borrowed time, eh? So are you, the longer you stand there in my presence." Then again, I think I was born with a little bit of an evil streak.

At 10:10 PM, Blogger Jenna Black said...

Marcia--Hope you don't mind that I published only one of your posts. LOL And yes, you did get a laugh out of me. (I guess you weren't yet working at our former mutual place of business when He Who Shall Remain Nameless was there. Lucky you.)

At 11:10 PM, Blogger Marcia Colette said...

LOL! I got carried away. What can I say?

I have a good guess on the Nameless Jerk-face, but that's a discussion better left offline. Slowly, but surely, I'm learning my mouth can get me into a lot of trouble, too. Unfortunately, depending upon whom I'm addressing at the time (i.e. Nameless Jerk-face), I probably won't care.


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