In 2017, something deadly and harmful is out there that is hardly being talked about, and it’s more damaging to your health than tobacco, sugar and pollution combined. I’m talking about words. Every person uses them, and they are used in millions of ways every day across the world. They can be used to devastating effect in so many different ways, cities use them for a variety of cultural reinforcement, political organisations mobilise millions of people through them, and probably the worst of all, the media industry manipulates and abuses power far beyond their unchecked boundaries. Words can cause wars, disharmony amongst nations, jealousy amongst friends, political divisions and even socio-political erosion. Look, for example, at how the word ‘caste’ is used in India or how Twitter has managed to shape much of our discussions today.
Ground-breaking neuroscientific research from Andrew Newberg, M.D. and Mark Robert Waldman, has shown that words can build a positive rapport with people in 7 seconds and equally tear it down under one second, words have shown to even damage your brain.
So you’re probably asking hasn’t the ‘word threat’ been ever-present since the dawn of civilization? Yes, but the proliferation of technology has shown a way to advance, confuse and complicate the word threat. With populations spending over 20 hours a week on the internet, with 5 billion pages to date on the world wide web, large numbers of the population fall victim to mindless repeated attacks in various different forms.
Harmful manipulators have always been out there using words to their advantage from trolls to fake news, and to the potential detriment of the greater good but we’re witnessing a resurgence in the divisive use of words and its more important than ever to be conscious of the damage it can do.
What we are facing today is not the average, run of the mill danger of words but one that is somehow unique and especially perilous. The danger so much greater today that people need to be especially vigilant and conscious of how they are interpreting and reacting to the words being foisted upon them.
The larger point here is how unaware we are of the unconscious world around us especially in the divisive world we inhabit today. We could say the same for the silent world of advertising, or even body language to some effect. So what can we do about it? Mindfulness has become a very popular buzzword, but it is more than this. Mindfulness is in fact one of the most highly effective combatants in the war against harmful language. As you become more aware of how things are entering your consciousness, you begin to realise how much of an effect it is having on you. To detach is one of the hardest things to do, but can be the most enlightening. In Bhutan young monks practice arguing against each other for the pure goal that the argument they have invested on will loosen its grip on the ego. The amazing thing about words is how much you stick by them. Like a disease, you use them in arguments based on your ideological principles, and you use them positively when you speak to yourself to motivate. Words have consequences and they are the logical extension of your thoughts, but in this day and age, when so many different ideas and beliefs exist in the world, we need to let go and see how these words are doing damage to us.
The problem is not people using words but how the brain interprets them, absorbs them, and then translates them into a functioning overview of the world. The brain is complex but it is also quite simple in that it has certain faculties which it uses over and over again to make highly emotional and instinctual decisions based on the kind of person you are, and the upbringing and environment you came from. If you wake up one day and see that negative news is sprayed all over the internet then you only have to stop for one moment and ask yourself a question, how much of this should I take on face value? How much should I absorb so it becomes part of my emotional template? What am I digesting here? Is this effecting my emotional balance?
This isn’t about blissfully turning away from everything, but the importance of taking a seriously long hard look at the words entering into your cognitive awareness and making conscious decisions about what to do with those words. This, in 2017, is more important than ever.