In March of this year I wrote a post called “Words Matter,” in which I recognized that ‘words matter’ has been a unifying theme on my blog for years. It’s even my tagline.
In that post I wrote, “Words matter. Words are often the bridge between our thoughts and our actions. And more often that not, words reveal that our thoughts and our actions don’t always link together the way we think they do. This is especially true in matters of religion and faith, and that’s been a common theme on this blog. It’s also true about politics and America’s national cultural identity. I tend to write more on those issues during election years, and this year’s rhetoric seems particularly needful of exploration. Sometimes our words reveal our thoughts and sometimes our words betray our thoughts, but either way, words matter.”
And then I stopped writing on politics. The change in my roster status triggered an emotionally-charged identity crisis, and I wrote a few posts on that. Then I stopped writing on this blog altogether. It hurt too much to write about ministry and religion. And politics? That was a train wreck I could barely stand to watch, and I couldn’t formulate a coherent thought about it beyond “WTF?! Just…no!”
I wrote in March that words matter, and there were plenty of words this election season. Not just the usual empty promises, self-promotion, and exhaustive explanations about how the other candidate’s policies are bad for the country. We had all that, of course, but we also had direct insults, name calling, and even threats. The politicians threatened each other, and they threatened the nation with predictions of catastrophic consequences if they didn’t win. Those words mattered, and some of the rhetoric from our now-President-Elect emboldened many in this country to threaten entire segments of the population with hate, violence, and discrimination. Those words matter, too.
During the campaign there were other words, as well. Citizens expressed concerns about job insecurity and their industries disappearing. They expressed concerns about corporate money dominating politics. They expressed concerns about health care affordability. They expressed concerns about the quality and cost of education. They expressed concerns about national security. They expressed a lot of concerns about a lot of issues that impact them directly. The citizens of this country had a lot of words for the politicians who strove to represent them.
But no one listened.
Words are meant for consumption. The written word is meaningless unless it’s read. The spoken word is meaningless unless it’s heard. Neither of the major candidates listened to the people. They were both too busy trying to get their own words out there. Trump and Clinton were competing to be the candidate with the most words and the loudest words, because they both believed the winner of that contest would be the winner of the election.
They were right.
And the people lost, because our words didn’t matter to the ones who should have been listening.
Not that we’re innocent victims, either. Those on the left don’t listen to those on the right, and those on the right don’t listen to those on the left. We follow people and organizations that reinforce our own opinions on Facebook and Twitter, and we ‘like’ and ‘repost’ articles and memes that proclaim our values or protest the values we disagree with. But few of us bother to cast a vote for city, state, or federal representatives, leaving others to determine who will establish the policies that will affect us. Fewer of us communicate our beliefs and values to our elected representatives, choosing instead to vent on social media about how politicians are so out of touch with their constituents.
Words are meant for consumption, but they must be consumed by the people for whom they’re intended. The politicians on both sides have demonstrated that they would rather tell their constituents what they should value rather than represent the values their constituents actually hold. They won’t listen voluntarily. But we have the power to make them listen. Representative government only works when the citizenry holds its elected leaders accountable. If your representative isn’t listening to you, then vote them out and elect one who will. And if you can’t find someone you want to vote for, get involved in politics and encourage people you respect to run. Better yet, run yourself.
We have a participatory government, but in order for it to work, we must participate. We must educate ourselves beyond soundbites and tweets, and acquire an understanding of the issues and the candidates’ positions. We must make our words matter to those who are supposed to represent us. (If you don’t know who your representatives are or how to contact them, you can find out here.)
And we must listen. Listen to the frustration of those who feel that the country is changing beyond recognition and no longer has a place for them. Listen to those who live in genuine fear of violence because they’re part of a demographic that has been demonized or denigrated. Listen to those who believe they’re being ignored. Listen carefully, and be willing to change your opinion or approach if someone on the other side has a valid point. Not all points are valid, but you’ll never hear the ones that are unless you listen.
Your words matter, so get them out there. But take time also to consume the words of others, and consider them carefully. Listen to their arguments and concerns, and don’t dismiss someone because they’re democrat, republican, liberal, conservative, urban, rural, Christian, Muslim, atheist, educated, working class, millennial, boomer, Gen X, black, white, male, female, or any other category you dislike. We’re all people, and we all matter. If we can’t agree on that at least, then we’re beyond hope.
It’s a dangerous time in our country and our world, and we don’t have much room for ignorance or complacency. Your words matter more than ever. Get them out there.