The magic of the written word

By Ande Jacobson

Writing can be a powerful tool. Written words have the power to induce strong emotions. They give us a way to record history, events, and ideas. They can entertain and inspire. In telling a story, a writer is often trying to elicit a strong response in their readers. As a reader, it can be quite enjoyable to lose one’s self in a well-told story that runs us through a variety of emotional responses.

With the ubiquity of text messaging, the internet, email, and social media, many of us are thrust into the role of writer as well as reader on a daily basis. We share ideas and concerns as we connect with friends and foes, often making new friends along the way. We debate, we cajole, we support, and we entertain through our written exchanges. And sadly, we can sometimes push people we care about away.

Especially in this time of physical separation, we are relying much more heavily on the written word in our often instantaneous communications through text messages, online chats, and social media exchanges. Unlike an in-person, face-to-face discussion where we unconsciously rely on non-verbal visual cues in addition to the spoken word, written exchanges rely solely on the words used, sometimes embellished by emoji. Even when a writer takes great care in choosing their words to convey their intended meaning, their message can sometimes be lost or distorted when a reader applies their own bias, sometimes interpreting a meaning that is neither stated, nor intended.

It should be noted that it is well-understood that a person cannot control how they feel. A so-called “gut reaction” is something that happens outside of conscious control. What can be controlled are our actions in response to what we feel. Often in the face of a strong reaction, it is crucial to take a step back and examine why we feel the way we do before taking any overt action we may later regret.

In a written exchange, where is the responsibility for clarity? Especially on social media these days, it’s becoming quite common for an informative, civil discussion to degrade into something else entirely due to a misinterpretation of a comment or question. When strong emotions are involved, people can sometimes take rash or impulsive actions causing damage that is later hard, if not impossible, to undo.

As a child, I was warned to think before I spoke. Being quick witted and very verbal, I sometimes suffered from foot in mouth disease by expressing a thought somewhat bluntly and having it misinterpreted. The same thing can happen in writing, although the advantage that writing has over speaking is that it’s far easier to edit before publishing a written statement. Even so, if a reader doesn’t approach a piece of writing with an open mind and applies their own biases to the statement, things can go awry.

All in all, the electronic means that have grown to keep us all in contact have helped a great deal. They allow us to stay in touch more easily and even asynchronously over long distances. Let’s use them carefully and try to give one another the benefit of the doubt when we sometimes have that uncomfortable, knee-jerk reaction to something someone we care about writes. It’s not worth throwing a friendship away over a momentary misunderstanding.

Whose job is it to make “good” writing?
The Rights and Responsibilities of Readers and Writers: A Contractual Agreement
Name-Calling: Thirteen Myths
The effects of name-calling on youth mental health
How to Become the Boss of Your Emotions

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