I am trying to teach you that words matter. I am sitting at my desk or standing behind my podium or waving my hands with the dry erase marker still in it.
Look at this author! Look at what she says here! Look at how he said that! Words matter! These words matter! I am trying to teach you the power of the pen in an age where you no longer need one of those. Finger tip to phone, your tweet is heard round the world before I even know you hit send.
Some people would say this ignorance of mine is a gross failure of me, the teacher, the authority figure in the room. They perhaps do not understand, that there is an entire generation of students who can look you in the face and text under their desk, all the while answering the questions you pose.
I am trying to teach you the power of words, of the words of the authors we study yes, but also of your words, your own words, but you are too busy texting and tweeting to notice.
Words are easy in your world, thrown out into the world without a care about what they really say or who might really read them. I would tell you I don’t know where you learned this, but that would be a lie. You learned it from the adults in your life, from the politicians on your tv, from the way the world works.
We aren’t very careful with our words.
I want to blame social media, and kids these days, but these word problems have been around since the beginning.
A girl in my high school took her life our senior year. She just couldn’t take the words. The ones that were flung at her starting in the third grade. She just couldn’t take the words anymore. I remember the announcement and the hush that fell over the room. I remember my friend turning around to face the girls who had been flinging the words since elementary school.
I hope you are happy. She said to them. Because this happened because of you.
I remember the hush that fell over the crowd then. They didn’t even bother denying it. We all knew it was true.
I am sure that the reasons were more complicated than that. Things are always messier than we want them to be. I am sure this girl was fighting demons none of us knew about. I am also sure the ugly words slung at her on a daily basis didn’t help. I still wonder about the second set of girls. I wonder what kind of demons they faced, as they realized what their words might have done.
They didn’t think it was a big deal.
They were just joking around.
And now? Now there is an app for that. Say whatever you want, whenever you want about whoever you want behind the shield of anonymity. I stand at the board with a marker still in my hand and make some public service announcements, about how the internet is forever, even after the delete button, about how you aren’t as anonymous as you think you are.
But really what I want to say is, your words matter. Your words are shaping your life, the lives of your peers, our future world. I want so desperately for it to be a kinder place for you.
You can hide behind the anonymity of the internet all you want and insist that it is just a stupid app and it isn’t real. But you need to know that if you’re not kind on the internet, then you’re not kind. And I have taught you for enough days now to know that on your good days you are kind, you are smart, you are ready and able to make this world a better place.
But I also know that you are human, just like the rest of us, perhaps even more so. At my most vulnerable don’t I also say I feel like I am 16 again? I know you are longing to be seen, heard, known, loved.
There aren’t enough up votes and likes to give you the love you are longing for. It will never be enough for you. The things that you are looking for, they don’t come from hits on an anonymous site. They come from relationships that are true and honest, authentic and grace-filled. What you are looking for comes from a life you can be satisfied with.
I know that living is hard some days. I know that life is always messier than we want it to be, and sometimes you are just so hurt and tired it seems easier to participate in the destruction of it all.
Please, take what it took me an extra fifteen years to learn, you are already loved, you are already heard, I promise you there are people who see and hear and love you. I am standing at the board talking with my hands, telling you that your words matter, but what I am really trying to say is that you matter. YOU MATTER, your words and actions and thoughts and feelings are important and matter greatly to this world. Even the anonymous ones.
You matter, you are loved, and you are better than the things you are saying about each other. You are better than the havoc you have been wreaking. Your words matter. Make them words you are willing to stand beside, no mask needed.