The Subconscious Power of Our Words
“Word, Sound and Power” is a Rastafarian concept that affirms the profound subconscious power of words. The subconscious power of our words is lost upon this distracted generation. We speak forth words unthinkingly. Too often we speak words (into the ears of our children and loved ones) without really knowing what is going on beneath the surface of our chatter and noise. There is a profound subconscious (as well as conscious) effect upon our minds and spirits due to the words we hear and speak.
We walk about blindly repeating “buzz” words we hear like parrots. Popular media paints a dystopian future due to the “machine” of A.I. taking over our social space. Yet, we (like A.I.) simply regurgitate our “programming language” all the time. We do not think about, truly hear, or meditate upon the meaning of the sounds of the words we speak. We miss this fundamental principle of “Word, Sound and Power.”
Sticks and Stones Will Break My Bones, but Names Will Never Hurt Me?
I have worked with numerous victims of abuse in my profession as a violence prevention and conflict resolution specialist. I will never forget one story a woman shared. She shared that as a child she experienced dreadful physical abuse at the hands of her step-father. Yet, what stuck with her (and most victims of abuse) was the damaging words spoken to her. Her physical injuries (dreadful as they were) had healed. The hardest wound to heal was the “heart-wound” done to her spirit through harsh, violent, racially derogatory, destructive words. “Word” and “Sound” have power.
One of the violence intervention groups I facilitated in Watts had a very intelligent, witty, and creative young man who was already involved in gang life. We did a check-in at the beginning of the group session. When asked his name, the young man gave his “street name.” He called himself, “Felon.” My co-facilitator explained the dynamic to him of “Word, Sound, and Power.” He suggested he ceased using the name, and allowing others to call him that. Otherwise, he would be literally “speaking” a future of incarceration into his life.
Names do hurt us. I get sick of hearing people complain about being “politically correct” in their language. What does that really mean? Break it down — ALL social life is political; our community spaces, families, offices, schools, etc. work on hierarchies and differential power dynamics (AKA, “politics”). Being “correct” means staying within boundaries that protect others. I want, in fact, DEMAND “political correctness” in the space I have to move in. Keep your dam ignorance, prejudice, and racism inside your head, not out your mouth where I have to hear it and be hurt.
What Does “Word, Sound and Power” Really Mean?
Rastafarians have used language for decades as a reverse weapon of defense against the systematic oppression they received from the Jamaican authorities and police. They saw into the deeper meanings of the concepts and word-pictures convened by the “sounds” of the oppressor’s language.
For example, the word “Oppressor.” When spoken out loud in Jamaica, sounds like “Uh-Pressor,” or “UP-resser.” They reasoned that the actual effect of oppression is not “Up,” it is “down.” Hence, they refer to “oppressors” as “DOWN-pressers.” This is more accurate in their political experience, and removes the cloak of deceit inherent in the actual pronunciation of the English word.
Another example is “Dedication.” The sound starts off with “Dead.” It literally SOUNDS like “DEAD-ication.” Rastafarians have an aversion to death and dead things. So when they do not “DEAD-icate” a song to someone. They “LIVE-icate” things to people, since this is more life-affirming. When I wrote my first book on Qigong, I decided to “LIVE-icate” it to my departed brother and new-born grandson.
This no doubt will sound ignorant or ridiculous to most people. But, that is of course is the rub. Do words indeed have not only a conscious, but subconscious power upon our minds? If we think that the only impact words have is merely conscious, we are blind to history. Everyone cites Adolf Hitler’s oratory skills (specifically the SOUND of his voice in his speeches) as part of the reason he was able to mesmerize one of the most intelligent and culturally sophisticated societies at the time. “Word, Sound have Power.”
Can We JUNK These Modern Buzz-Words?
Understanding and integrating this concept of “Word, Sound, and Power,” for 40 years, it now affects how I perceive and use language. Just as an example, I would like to share my distrust and distaste for these two common “Buzz words,” which are particularly popular in the business world. Here they are below:
- “BRAND”: This word has been used in the business world for at least a couple decades. Business books promote “defining your Brand.” “YOU are a Brand.” “Don’t sell products, sell your Brand,” etc., ad nauseum. “Branding” historically goes way back to the Roman Empire, when slaves were “branded” with their “owners” mark. The cattle industry “Brands” captive cows by heating in fire a twisted piece of iron that bears the mark of the ranch. They press this into the flesh of the helpless animal, “branding” the sentient being as a piece of property of the “owner.”
The trafficking of African kidnap victims culminated in them being “bought” by another human being cruel enough to do so. Then, they burned that European persons “mark” into their flesh by the same cruel method done to a cow. If that does not disgust you, then nothing will. The thought of that literally makes me want to puke. Why would I want ANYTHING connected with my business to at all conceptually connected to such an act?
Obviously, this is not what the business “brainiacs” who came up with the term specifically meant. Yet, our brains are (consciously or subconsciously) wired to be affected by all the connotations of the words we sling. I would be willing to bet it was some White guys that came up with that term two decades ago. I cannot imagine any person descended from the African-Diaspora recommending that word be used as an iconic business word.
- “HACK”: I get it. It a relatively new business buzz word that signifies a quick and efficient process to get to something. We “hack” codes, “hack” information, “hack” processes that make certain business tasks easier. I get it. But, have you thought of the connotations of the word? Serial killers “hack” their victims to death. Burglars “hack” a door in to break and enter a premises to steal. “Hack” is grisly, ragged, ugly, and not terribly efficient. It is an unnecessary dispersal of power and force. It is overkill. It is deeply violent in its connotations.
Would you want a surgeon who needs to do a precise procedure to “hack” your operation? I am not looking to “hack” anything. If someone wants me teach me to “hack” something, I will tell them to “hack this.” I am a violence prevention and conflict resolution specialist. Why would I cast about a term like that flippantly? How could I do so without thinking of the implications (conscious and subconscious) to the communities I work with? Please, keep your “hacking” to yourself.
Again, perhaps these are ridiculous things for most people to care about. Yet, the older I get, the wiser I get. I remember the effects that words have upon the people who speak them. How many times have I subverted my own efforts by carelessly speaking a word or joke? Then, that word or joke actually manifests into existence. If you think about it long enough, you may recall times when you, or people you know had words they flippantly dropped bite them in the ass later.
I share these thoughts because I fear for our society, which operates so thoughtlessly. Having taught non-violent parenting classes to distressed communities, having worked with numerous women and men who have been incarcerated, I have grown more aware.
We live in a time of massive Orwellian New Speak. “Fake News?” That idiotic term is self-defining and implicitly constricts the door for thought and discussion. Our children are growing up in a society that discourages active thought. It encourages peer pressure and conformity. We make think we are more sophisticated than pot-smoking Rastafarian philosophers. But are we? Are you being manipulated by the “Word, Sound, and Power” of the Powers That Be?
“In the beginning, was the WORD . . .”