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“I killed that man because I told his name. And then I thought I would never speak again, because my voice would kill anyone.”

Maya Angelou


“What would happen, finally if instead of asking mothers to appease the wrongs of history and the heart, and then punishing them when they inevitably fail, we listen to what they have to say - from deep within their bodies and minds - about both? Perhaps it would indeed bring the world to an end as we know it, but I suspect, certainly for mothers, this would be no bad thing.”

Jacqueline Rose

Mothers, An Essay on Love and Cruelty, Faber & Faber (2018)



Little Maya Angelou believed it. She believed it so strongly that she went mute for four years after the man who raped her was murdered. If words themselves cannot kill, the fact that she believed that they did transformed her (an American study dating back to 1980 states that female victims of rape experience guilt due to “internalised discriminatory norms”)*.


It is easy to be dismissive of words. Don’t we often refer to what we mean to say, as if to remove meaning from what we actually said? In an era where anything you say can (will?) be used against you, space for individual speech widens and space for reflection shrinks. What we mean to say gets lost.


We are all moving objects and nothing is ever permanent, yet social media generate and impose labels constantly, condemning any wrongdoers - or in that case, wrong-sayers instantly. The very nature of short captions and video content doesn’t allow for much meaning to be conveyed.

There is hardly any time for something other than upfront reaction.


I worry. School teaches children that mistakes are good, but the whole of society screams the opposite: misuse a word and you are done.




My friend doesn’t want to play with me and you always take her side!”

My 8 year-old shouts. I know she isn’t being “rational”. I know she is referring to something that happened years ago. I want to reply that she’s wrong, but something tells me to just let her finish, so I do (this time anyway). Once she is done, I say: “you’re disappointed and sad, aren’t you?” She sobs. “yes…”.

We then cuddle silently, and that’s the end of it.




…yet if there is no-one to hear them, most of their power vanishes.

Sometimes, silence is the best answer. Sometimes, an answer is worth a wait. We often shout when we feel like no one will listen. We tell ourselves that there was no other choice. So, yes, we shout, and punch, or remain silent for as long as it takes for us to find a benevolent ear to listen.

All of these reactions bear the double-edge swords of violence: fleet solace and long-time suffering.


What words need is space to either grow or evaporate into thin air.




… where there is room for them to be said…

… when there is room for them to be read.


Let us then

aim to be

Word healers

Silent listeners

And reflective speakers.


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