Kia ora e te whānau!
Thank you so much to everyone that read and shared my first piece, I'm stoked it resonated with so many people, Māori and non-Māori alike. For this post---it's a tribute to a friend who's no longer with us. And so, I wanted to talk with you about something that really could have changed the outcome of his situation; words and their impact.
See words are powerful, but their power is often difficult to measure because it's invisible for the most part. Tears are an extreme measurement of their impact, but we don't always see those. An emotionally-charged response is another, though, when you're on either end of this situation, you're usually not thinking "how powerful are my words right now?" So, how can we describe them? Harmful words especially, because in today's age of social media, it's so easy to write 'eww what a weirdo', 'gross go back to x, y, z country', 'u have no talent' etc. and not think twice about it.
In many ways, hurtful words are like the clothes scattered about your bedroom -- #realtalk they're everywhere, they're the first things you see, and they cover over that which gives the space its individuality. As we grow up, we have the painstaking task of sorting through these clothes splayed about us, and some people's rooms are messier than others. To our nostalgic sadness, we'll pick up clothes that hid or extinguished unique parts of ourselves -- pictures of that childhood friend we left behind because they were different from the other kids; the letter mum wrote after her and dad separated because they could never stopped yelling at each other, or us; the guitar we stopped playing when someone said it would never get us anywhere; or the books we loved after a friend gossiped about how boring we were. Later on, when we look at the words we allowed to shape and define us, instead of seeing a room inhabited so fully by us, we see one covered in clothes people nonchalantly draped, carelessly flung, angrily tossed and spitefully marked our space with.
When I was about 13 or 14, this guy about the same age told me 'you dance like an elephant'. While it was only 5 mere words, when he said that, he sewed a shirt and dropped it over the ballerina music box in my room. I never danced again. Already insecure about how I looked, I figured he was probably right and so it wasn't worth arguing against his assessment of me. 7 years later, when I'd finally gotten past letting those 5 words define what I would and would not do, I began dancing again. Oh the joy! I'd forgotten how much I loved it. This was only 1 shirt though. Imagine if you had 50 of them...
For some, it gets to the point where they don't see any reason to stay there. There isn't fifty shirts, there's five hundred. It's so messy, there are so many clothes it rivals a hoarder's bedroom, and they don't even recognise a space belonging to them as their own. With no floor, barely a ceiling and clothes crudely hammered into all the walls, it becomes harder and harder to separate yourself from the heaping piles of clothes their words compare you to. Unlike clothes in reality, these ones aren't easily moved either -- like trying to scrape hardened gum off concrete, you'd potentially need a sledgehammer to start anew. And by that stage, sometimes the only option left that they can actually see, is the door behind them.
In high school, there was this guy. We were friends (we had a few classes together), but we didn't know each other that well. I didn't know he was getting bullied, and quite badly too. A few months or so after it happened, my best friend told me the news. He'd gotten to that point -- the door had been the only thing left he could see, and he'd walked out. I don't use this metaphor to shy away from saying it outright, but to dignify him and every single person that struggles with suicidal thoughts. This is not an issue to stifle with shame, and your value as a human being, is not lessened because of what you struggle with. Whether it's because of other people's words, mental illness, self-loathing, circumstance, or whatever it is that's driving you towards grabbing the handle of that door and walking out, please hold on. You matter. Your life is purposed. You are here for a reason. If there are approximately 7.4 billion people on the earth right now, with the number of people having ever lived on earth ranging from 45 billion to a staggering 125 billion according to worldometers, and there is only one of you, one -- not two with a vintage clone from 1541AD or 52BC -- then don't you know, that makes you a rarity, an anomaly without rival?
As you read this poem, think about the things you've recently spoken into being through your words. While we'll never be able to see the impact they have on another person's soul, I really hope the clothes analogy helps you to visualise the power our words have. Because regardless of how we intend them, the plain truth is that their impact on others is out of our control.
Comments of jest and remarks of pride,
in which suppressed emotions confide.
Instigation pressured by company not worth a cent,
time devoted earnestly only to seem sadly spent.
pain, malice, hurt, arrogance and hate
vented like words on a blackened dirty slate.
Prolonged suffering stretching further than the sea
fallen unjustly to those simply contented to be.
Unskilled warfare merciless in pursuit,
seeking out souls still shy and minute.
Handing over lies that unravel into fact
like waves unrelenting, leaving nothing intact.
Palpable conflict spreading fiercely through the air,
constant vicious slander becoming too much to bear.
For words are as numerous as the sand on a beach,
but woe to all those with no restraint of speech.
It begins at the crossfires… the breeding ground of hate;
where ignorance is the mouse, devoured by the snake.
Feelings once dormant, exercising their wits,
colouring retorts of spite, and malevolent quips.
Provocation the catalyst for unleashing this disease,
untamed slurs said with nonchalant ease.
Blinded by emotion to justify the lashes,
attacking something precious and reducing it to ashes.
An unending cycle practiced on a daily basis
stripping away the souls, held behind the faces.
Is there anyone at all who understands what they do?
When they shoot daggers with lies that pierce right through--
words flung naïvely that seep into the heart
making some poor soul think, "yeah, anyone could play my part."
Looking back to those moments, it’s so painful to think
that someone could justify forcing others to the brink--
to the point where they’re broken, where their hearts are scarred,
where they’re throwing up their hands screaming "this life is too hard!"
My plea; think about the words that you choose to speak.
Are you building someone up, or harassing them with critique?
Because this poem is a tribute, to a friend who left the race
and I miss his warm smile, his laugh and his face.
But he was so broken, his spirit so marred--
rest in peace my friend, you fought well, you fought hard.
If you're struggling and don't know where to turn, please, call one of these helplines. They're the people that dedicate their lives to being there when you feel as though no one else is.
Key To life - 0800 256 7376
Suicide Crisis Helpline - 0508 828 865
Youthline - 0800 376 633/free text 234
Ngā mihi e hoa mā,