“Out of your mouth, printed.”
That’s the way my father has always cautioned me on thinking before I speak – and the power of what you put out into the world.
It’s what my Grandma Sarah used to say to him when he was young, warning him to be careful before he spoke. Long before there was an Internet, my late grandmother warned my father of this rule – once you say something you just can’t take it back.
How much more so now that we have an unerasable world canvas for all to see.
I’ve always been a writer. A storyteller. An activist who believes in speaking out against injustice. In light of the dangers of never being able to retract a statement, what to do?
Dare I be true to myself and my talent and speak out, commit my words to public scrutiny? Or is the wisest move to simply stay silent?
Writers have always know the responsibility that comes with our craft. If we must think before we speak, it’s all that much more important to think and think hard – and perhaps let it sit before publishing – to know when to write and when to hold back.
We have the awesome and wonderful job of being the voice for those who don’t have a voice or who aren’t brave enough to speak up. We articulate our existence and make sense of it.
But a good writer, the best writers, engage in their craft with grave seriousness and a recognition of the power their words have to take down or build up.
In this New York Times article about tweets that have damaged reputations, ruined careers, and caused today’s version of public shaming, we reckon with the notion that in such a quick-to-publish world of tweets and posts, we are letting emotion steer the ship.
Not intellect. Not reason. Not wisdom.
E.B. White said: “Writers do not merely reflect and interpret life, they inform and shape life.”
It’s a blessing and a curse, and far from being some dreamy imaginings down a winding and flower-lined road, writing is a huge job and one that should not be taken lightly. And social media is just a mere quick extension of this age-old endeavor.
The quicker we can hit send and publish forever the thought of the moment, the quicker we can dig for ourselves a hole. Why speak, then, you may ask? And why indeed.
Because when we stay silent, we deprive the world of another way of looking at this thing called life. We let the demons take over. We stay uninformed, and alone.
Yes, we must speak out and we must write and we must make sure voices are heard and different perspectives shared. But we must do so with caution and reverence and confidence.
If whatever you’re about to say can’t wait 24 hours until you cool down and review it and decide once for all whether it SHOULD be published, it is probably not worth saying. How many of the people featured in that article would have found a different path, a different life outcome if they had been wise enough to slow down and ponder the wisdom of what they’re about to say?
That doesn’t mean to be afraid of speaking. By all means, shout to the clouds! Let your voice be heard. We shape our existence and our decisions on the basis of how much information we have.
The job of a blogger or an avid social media poster is to do so with reverence and wisdom – not on the fly, not in a rage, not emotion-driven.
Out of your mouth, printed. Thanks, Grandma. Perhaps it’s that simple after all.
(Learn how to speak wisely and from your unique important perspective. Join my 21 Day Blogging Challenge.)