A few months back, I read an article that resonated with me in an unexpected way. I walked away thinking I was “untouched” and okay. The piece was on the harassment women face when we run out in the “wild” (i.e., someplace other than at home on a treadmill). I’ve encountered a lot of that harassment in the past. Thankfully, not lately.
The following day, I unconsciously dressed in a long-sleeve jacket and long, baggy shorts before hitting the streets for my morning jog. About halfway through my jog, I realized what I had done.
Despite it being a few years since I had last been aware of being sexually harassed while out running, I resonated so strongly with the words of the woman who wrote the article that it all came flooding back emotionally, even if subconsciously.
Now, the lesson I’d like to offer here is this: your words matter. They impact people in ways couldn’t possibly know or understand. Sometimes, your words are commiseration or validation for someone who needs to feel seen or heard. Sometimes, they are swords cutting people to the quick. Other times, they may have the impact these woman’s did on me: bringing up old wounds.
None of these are inherently good or bad. Some people will run wild with your validating words and, intentional or not, harm others in their own “freedom.” Others may rejoice and find healing. The reader’s response is not on you to determine. You cannot force anyone to do anything.
However, your words hold power. And as writers, we are all responsible for what we write. Anger-filled vitriol on Facebook, in a short story, or in an op-ed can impact the reader negatively, bringing out their own unhealthy anger. But, on the other hand, sweet, uplifting words may bring someone else joy on a crappy day.
Use the power of words for messages you wish to spread in the world, not merely to blurt out anger, disappointment, or other hurts. (This is different from venting, by the way. That is done in private with safe people.) You and your readers will all benefit.