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Words Matter

Updated: Jan 4, 2021

by Polly Attwood With so many pressing concerns big and small — from climate change to politics, from our children to our health — it is easy to burn ourselves out and suffer from compassion overload. Then all of a sudden, an attack such as the one at Christchurch (New Zealand) happens. It breaks something in our hearts to see that one of our fellow human beings can be so filled with hate and rage that he would murder fifty innocent people at their prayers. What could have been present — or lacking — in his growing up that could lead to this? I don’t know, but I come back to the conviction that every member of a community has a part to play. The Concord and Carlisle community is lucky in that there is a real sense of the community working together. This is rare, and it doesn’t happen by accident: It is the result of conscious decisions by its members to keep it that way. Keeping a community healthy, welcoming, and respectful helps to defend against the spread of disunity, hate, and abuse of power. The CCHRC always embodied that for me when I was lucky enough to live and work there. Connections between parents, schools, the police department, faith groups and town government combine to hold the community together. It matters how all people are treated. Not just the momentary interactions, but in how those responses are seen and understood by children, neighbors, visitors — anyone. Children are very sensitive to tensions or awkwardness; anything forced or fake. They are very perceptive. So how we treat each other, and how we respond to different situations, is very important to this younger population, who will take what they learn now into the greater world as they grow. Above all, words matter hugely. But not just the words we speak. We even need to examine the words with which we use to think. We would do well to ask ourselves: Are we thinking with respect? With empathy? Do we have knee-jerk reactions where we find ourselves viewing others with suspicion or distaste? Are we thinking in stereotypes? I don’t have the answers — Christchurch, from all I hear, was a caring and compassionate community, and tragedy still happened there. But not knowing the answers leaves me holding on to the belief that community matters, that our words matter, and that each of us has a part to play, a responsibility to ‘live deliberately’, as Thoreau said, in every action and word, spoken or not.

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