Sunday, November 18, 2007

The power of words

Disclaimer: This post has been brewing in my head for about three days now and each time I think about it, there is slightly a different twist or point to it, so I am not not exactly sure where this is going.

I was watching the children play outside on the playground on Friday and I heard and saw one of the them children run up to another child and say, "I don't like it when you do that. When I say no, I mean no." This got me thinking about how we use words and listening to other people's words. My first thought went towards the No means No campaign against rape. There are two sides to the whole listening to others when it comes to rape. The rapist is obviously not listening to the other person, I know that rape is about power, so this would seem to be an obvious, but useless point, but it isn't. RAINN reports that 73% of rapes occur between people who know each other. So this means that it is not a random stranger who jumps on the women in the dark and then rapes her. It means that there is probably some communication and that the women is saying no. It means that the rapist is not listening to the victim. Yes, this is still power, but there is an element of not listening, of not respecting someone else's thoughts and words. So, I wonder why does this person not listen, are they not used to having their own words respected and so do not respect others? Were they ignored in childhood in terms of their words and expressed desires? I have seen and know that research shows that children with limited to no speech tend to resort to violence more quickly than children who do speak. So then if you have been awkward or uncomfortable around the gender that you are interested in and have not been able to produce "speech" then you resort to violence as a way of exerting that same ability or power. I am not apologizing for rapists, I am in no way saying that rape is Ok or that since you cannot speak to the interested person that rape is OK, but as I do not believe that children and people are inherently bad, I am also looking for another explanation. This, also, at least in my thoughts, explains the excuse that is given at times by rapists, she said no, but she meant yes. Well, no, if you are listening to another person's words and they say no, then they mean no. If they say stop, they mean stop. This "no means yes" thing seems to be projection, as an individual you are not accustomed to others listeining to your words, so you do not listen to another person's words. You hear the other person say stop, but you do no listen. I am defining listening as not only hearing, but also comprehending the words that are being said.

The other side to this is that, according to RAINN, again, 59% of rapes are not reported. It would seem that most rapes are not reported because the victim is afraid they will not be believed, although I could be wrong on this. This again goes back to being used to having your words listened to and respected. If you are not used to the words you use being listened to and respected, than you will assume that your report of rape will not be respected and listened to. You will assume that it is not worth wasting another person's time by speaking up, by reporting what happened. I would not even connect this lack of faith in your own words to self-esteem necessarily, I would connect this to something else.

The reason that we are not used to being listened to is that it doesn't happen very often. Do we really listen to those we come in contact with on a daily basis? Do we listen to our children, our spouses, our friends and coworkers? We have become a nation that hears what others say, but we do not listen. We tune out what a majority of the world says to us. We are so busy thinking about what else we have to do or what we are going to say next that we do not listen. I have been in several trainings or discussions on active listening skills, where you are supposed to really listen to another person and take a minute to formulate your thoughts and then speak. Have you ever really tried this? Have you ever listened to someone and then thought before you answered? Well, you get strange looks and people expect you to just answer right away. The worst is when they assume you have nothing to say and so they either repeat what they just said or just go on to another topic. I am not saying that I do this a lot or very often, but I do try. I am as guilty as everyone else of not listening, of planning my response or what I am going to say next while the other person is talking. But I also try to be more conscious of this especially when interacting with young children. The other point is how many of us actually choose our words carefully and actually mean exactly what we say. It is easier when you are typing or writing something, but in everyday speech it is very hard to mean exactly what you say. We tend to assume that people know what we mean, we use inaccurate word choices, especially when talking to those who are close to us, but in reality even those we live with and interact with on an everyday level are not in our minds and so they do not know exactly what you are trying to say. They cannot read your mind and so do not know how you got from point A to point B. Maybe I am more sensitive to this, as my own sense of logic and train of thought tends to be different than most, so at times I actually have to explain the whole train of thought to someone before they actually see what I said in the first place and at other times I have to get someone else to explain exactly what they were thinking so that I can understand what they said in the first place (I think that is a huge run-on sentence, but I am not sure how to break it so I am leaving it). So, back to the whole why do we not report rape, it is because we are so used to not having people listen to us, that we do not even consciously realize it. We say that the police or another person would not understand, or that they would not believe us or that if it is our words versus another's words, of course the other person would be believed. We need to start to listen to others and demand that others listen to us.

Do I think that by listening more, rape would be disappear? Probably not as it is about power, but maybe one or two more people would not be raped. Do I think that by listening more, we would have a happier society? Yes, I think that if we listened more and talked less we would realize that some people really have valuable things to say. We would realize that your child, or a student (sorry as a teacher this kind of sticks with me) or that friend or coworker that talks to you when you feel like you have a million other things to do and you get annoyed because they interrupted your routine has something valuable to tell you. They may tell you the meaning of life or they love you or really who knows what, if you actually stopped and listened.

1 comment:

FranIAm said...

This is a very profound post and I want to give it some thought... but I did want to acknowledge reading it.

I will be back.

It is interesting to me and quite amazing- in a good way - that you would have that awareness when listening to the kids.

Then expanding the thought outward, as you did.