In the long and twisted journey through my existential crisis that is really mostly my brain yelling “what am I going to do with my life????” I got it in my head that maybe words in general aren’t as powerful as I previously thought. Maybe inspiring young girls to aspire to be Dragon Queens of the Realm wasn’t actually as beneficial to young girls, or to society at large. A degree in engineering, on the other hand, can yield concrete positive innovations that provide the world with, say, fewer carbon emissions. Big difference, right?
As I slowly came down from this initial panic, I began to realize firstly that nobody does it alone, and my receiving a degree in law or theoretical physics isn’t going to magically change the world for the better in a monumental way. (But I still want to pursue a STEM-related degree, as it would be tons of fun and work and mountains of new knowledge.)
Secondly, how dare I (admonishes my inner voice) diminish the positive effects of a book? Books introduced me to the female characters I aspired (and still aspire) to emulate, from dragon-slaying knights to no-nonsense detectives to earth-savers? Without these literary companions, I might have drowned in the sexist agenda that permeates the society in which I live and to a greater extent than I was previously aware, my own home and family. I might not have had the guts to say/dress/act the way I wanted in school, when the pounds of pressure to “blend in” weighed on my sweatshirt-clad shoulders.
The moral of the rant is that words shape us. Words do have power. Every fairy tale you read is right on the money when it comes to the potency of an incantation. Words not only inspire actions; words ARE actions, and should not be undervalued.
The moment when I realized I was putting a little too much validity on my panic-du-jour was a story my mother told me in passing. She told me that she had mentioned a metaphor I had used about the ability of one person to make an impact on the world. (I used the ripple effect metaphor.) The person to whom my mother was speaking lit up with revelation.
In a very literal way, I saw my words take root in another person. By “ripple effect” my overused metaphor traveled from me to my mother to this stranger whom I’d never met and managed to provide insight (however trite and slight). It’s these little but powerful events that remind me that words are actions in and of themselves and that little things can great change. These are ridiculously obvious points, in theory, but every once in a while it’s good to witness a reminder of their existence. The voices in my head can get so awfully distracting.