Precision of Language

99% of the time, the words you read here have been cycling through my head for days or weeks before they find their way through my fingers and onto the screen. Part of the reason for that is a time factor – I may have an idea I want to write about, but not have the time to sit down with the idea until several days have passed. But most of the reason is a preference for fully processing a situation or thought before I speak or write. As an introvert, I think approximately 1000% more than I speak. This is especially true when it comes to situations that are emotionally charged.

But then there is the 1% of the time, where I find myself living or thinking something, and almost instantly sitting down and typing as quickly as a thought enters my head. These are the most raw of my blog posts, and while they are still an edited version of my thoughts,  they sometimes are not the final version of my thoughts. And while they are still an edited version of my thoughts, they are sometimes are a version of my thoughts that have the unintended and undesired potential to upset people I care about.

Last month I wrote a post within 24 hours of my son returning home from his first week of sleep away camp.   The focus of the post was truly about how hard it was for us to let him go, but how important we know it is to allow him these experiences and to trust the safety net we have built under him through therapy and medication. A part of the story of his time at camp is the fact that his medication routine was not followed as closely as it is at home. I felt that I  could not tell that story without that fact, but it wasn’t the focus of the story I was telling. Honestly, by the time I published that post I had almost forgotten that the medication was a part of the post. I had internally processed the “how” of him missing medication, and moved on.

But what I sometimes forget is this…While the vast majority of people who read my blog are not people I actually know, there are people we know and love – and who love us in return – reading every word I write.  I wrote a post that intended to talk about the necessity of letting our son find his place in the world without us, but at least two people who read the post were adult chaperones on the trip and were hurt by the parts that mentioned missed medication. Without intending to do so, I hurt people who had nothing but the best of intentions in caring for my son in my absence. The fact that I caused hurt with my words – when my intent is the opposite – has been haunting me for weeks now. The blog post that caused that hurt was one that falls into the 1% of posts that I write relatively quickly. This blog post where I am addressing the hurt my words caused is squarely in the other 99% of posts – it’s been churning around in my heart and mind for weeks now.

I fear that I may have abused the power of my words.

In the same time that I have been working through the hurt I caused – both in my own head and directly with the people I hurt – my son introduced our family to The Giver, by Lois Lowry. He watched the movie at a friend’s house several months ago and then read all of the books in the series. For weeks he had been lobbying for us to watch the movie, and we finally did a couple of weeks back. If you have not read the book or seen the movie, I don’t want to give anything away – but the plot centers around the blessing vs. curse nature of the choices we make and has a pretty heavy emphasis on the power of words in shaping our experiences. There is such an emphasis on words in the dystopian society where the story is set, that the phrase “precision of language” is used frequently as a warning when somebody ventures to use words that attempt to describe emotion or feeling.

In the weeks since we watched the movie, my husband and I both have been reminding each other to have “precision of language” – it has been used in a joking manner when we had a communication failure about who was (or was not) going to do something, and in a more serious manner when navigating our way through nonsensical, hormone fueled meltdowns from our daughter. “Precision of language” has quickly become a part of our spoken shorthand, and has also been integral to my internal processing about the words I used which caused so much hurt.

Was I precise in saying that my son did not take his medication in the right amounts or at the right times during his trip? Yes. Did I mean to imply that the adults on the trip were negligent. Absolutely not. Did my lack of precision in the writing of that part leave room for people to think I held the adults who were on the trip responsible for the missed medication. Sadly, yes. Could I have told the same story without including the reference to missed medication? Yes.

In the society created in The Giver, precision of language is used as way of eliminating words that have too much meaning, but I am adopting precision of language as way of reminding myself that people may read my words and hear a meaning different from my intent. I still firmly believe we need more words, strong words, grace-filled words, bridge building words. But I also know that personal experiences, and preferences, and even prejudices will shape each individual’s understanding of a story.  There is power is truth and transparency, but I must take care to not abuse the power of my words. There is a delicate balance between sharing our story to break down stigma and open conversations, and protecting the hearts of my family and the people who love us.

Precision of language. Grace in. Grace out.

2 Thoughts

  1. This is one of my favorite posts. I’ve been talking to friends recently who, in comparison to them, find me quiet. But my point to them is that language is powerful. I am constantly rolling things around in my head before I put my words out there – as you said, in emotionally charged or opinion situations. Once I put them out in the world, it’s important that I own them. Same goes for my kids. You obviously subscribe to the same philosophy and have given a shining and humble example. Thank you for this. I’ll have to look into the series you write about. Beautiful post. Well done.


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