typewriter (copy)

Learning to type was an important life skill for Warren Peper  Matthew Fortner/Staff

On more than one occasion, I’ve told people that the most important class I took in high school just might have been typing. Who knew just how important knowing how to get around a keyboard would be to all of us in the years ahead. In college, the most valuable class I took dealt with vocabulary. It was a natural fit and played into my love of language and the various avenues we use to communicate.

When I took those courses, there was no way of knowing I’d spend almost 40 years talking on TV and another nearly 10 years writing a weekly newspaper column. I definitely believe words matter.

There are so many platforms for being heard these days. A blog, a tweet or a facebook post can immediately cause harm or force an apology. Inflammatory language may cause damage that a retraction can’t possibly undo.

How many times have you heard somebody start a sentence by saying, “I’m sorry if I offended anyone, but....”. Words are powerful, and we should all be accountable.

It’s only words

Remember the childhood adage that sticks and stones can break my bones, but words will never hurt me? It’s a laudable premise, but not so true anymore. The uncivil discourse that now seems to encase our society causes hurt quite often.

The amazing thing about words, though, is that they can soothe as well as incite. Words can cause a broken heart, or heal one. Words can ignite passion, or sever a relationship. Words said in anger cut deep. Inspiring words can motivate.

Words can also make us smile. A malaprop is a speech error where the speaker unintentionally substitutes the wrong word that sounds similar, often for the sake of getting a laugh. Here are a couple of examples: A rolling stone gathers no moths (moss) or Having one wife is called monotony (monogamy).

Words that move and cause deeper reflection often force us to think. This quote from Helen Keller is especially enlightening. “Walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light.”

Think before you speak

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Our instant gratification society forces us to feel we should immediately reply. Everybody wants to add their 2-cents worth, but in many cases, those views and opinions are overpriced.

The nightly cable talking heads and many politicians are so agenda-driven it’s difficult to find clarity. So often, the person talking the loudest is the only one heard. Make sure you’re not just listening to the noise.

How we communicate with each other reveals something about each of us. It’s not necessary to insult or degrade, just to make sure your point is made.

We don’t all have to feel the same way or believe the same things to get along. We should, though, respect each other enough by using words that provide for a civil discussion and a genuine desire to understand each other.

Words matter..so does knowing when to stop using them. Talk to you next week.

Reach Warren at peperwarren@gmail.com