I can't remember where I found an excerpt about the salty language of soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines. I'm thinking that it was Bill Whittle, but I couldn't find it there. The point of the passage was that in combat or conflict, deeds matter and words are merely the sauce on the meat. Even as a writer, I find that to be true.
Yesterday I wanted to post onto my little Facebook box, "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me." It is because some words had hurt me, which they can when you decide to be serious and sensitive and take people at their words. Interesting phrase that, take people at their words. It means that in lieu of any experience with that person, without having the benefit of witnessing their deeds, we allow their words alone to carry the full burden of understanding them. We inherently know this to be an act of faith, because we only know people, in the French context of the verb 'connaitre', when we associate with them, when we watch them walk and hear them talk and touch them and share deeds with them. But we know words, in the French context of the verb 'savoir' as we know facts. We consume them whole and digest them instantaneously and completely. So taking someone at their word can be a frighteningly risky exercise. We accept the complex weight of their humanity, something we know cannot be immediately determined, based upon words that do indeed have immediate and total weight.
This is why insults hurt so much, especially when we have not decided fully what our own complex human weight is. If we thing we might be an idiot, and somebody calls us that, or tells us that someone is an idiot. Hoo brother, the full set of implications of being an idiot, especially true idiots we have known, comes down in full force in that one word directed at you, at your weak spot.
There are other interesting implications of having people taken at their words. What if your own private words about yourself become public without your knowledge. Now, people you do not know posesses this ammo against you, in your own words - of the millions you might craft to build up the person you want to be, these bricks of your mental construction hurled back at you. If your psyche has bones, they may well be broken.
Fortunately, we humans have a very fine ability to distinguish our dreams from our reality, fairy tales from experience. While it's true that our minds recreate memories from words and images and sounds and recreate the past whole cloth, rather than fetch a reel of experiential film from vast archives in our heads, we still know what we've actually experienced from what we've heard tell. That is especially true of our experiences with people.
It is the actual deeds with actual people that matter, no matter what our words say. In fact, we need to be able to shock and adjust our systems with bricks of words in order to prepare us for actual experience. The more we savoir, the better we can connaitre. The more we can absorb the immediate impact of the symbols of communications, the better we are prepared to deal with the complexities of the real world. Words prepare us for sticks and stones. That is, in the end, their ultimate value. Words without deeds are fictions without the leaven of actions. They are deceptions whose veracity is unchallenged. They are narrative and counter-narrative, things best left in computers, libraries, archives and other deserts of humanity.
In the post-modern world many of us live in, it is quite possible to live in such a desert bubble - to have never actually been punched in the nose, to have no broken bones or scars. I grew up in a time and place when such experience was to be expected, I will speak more about that under Vigilance Games. Mike Tyson says that everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face. That's for real. But absent a left to the kidney or a right to the jaw, it's awfully easy to get caught up in verbiage and mistake the map of literature for the territory of human life. I have a visceral hatred for the overlawyered aspect of our contemporary life and wish more disputes were settled via fisticuffs. Suing somebody out of their livelihood does not require courage, merely conviction. We are awash in words and words of conviction. They may be cheap, but that doesn't change their immediate impact on our minds.
That is why it is critical for the free man, for the whole human, to keep in close touch with sticks and stones and broken bones. We must be immersed in the physical to compensate for our overlong dalliances in the verbal and symbolic realms. I see that too many of us have been too easily convinced and wordsmithed into foolish inversions of normal human behavior. We change our diets - what we put into our body - not because of what our body is telling us, but because of what we read in a book or saw on television.
As part of my martial education it is important for me to feel the lessons of what we know in human history that the body can experience, not simply to hear them. I have the habit of overthinking and weighing words very precisely. This can be foolish when not counterbalanced by hands-on experience.
Words will only break your bones if you take them too seriously. If somebody tells you to take a long walk off a short pier, or to go fuck yourself, you would be a fool to comply. I think the schoolyard kids have the right response, "why don't you try and make me?".
Submitted for Cobb's Rules: Gordian knots are plentiful, always have a sword ready.