In my work I am aware of choosing words. What word has the meaning and musicality to express a thought, moment or feeling? Words are an important part of the work and research I have done as a story-weaver, in education, capacity-building and conflict resolution. In each setting the poet in me springs forth and asks about the words and the silence between them. One word can haunt a life until it is recognized and expelled. In school, with undiagnosed dyslexia, I was placed on the SLOW table. Dramatist that I am I played my part. It took a long time for me to see I was not slow and to narrate another reality.
Every day we label ourselves and others and use words to divide or unite. In poetry we awaken to the subtle complexities; a sense of incantation and invocation. To give voice is to create as well as to reflect upon creation. In conflict transformation, in seeking restorative or transitional justice, in educating that voice of invocation is there. There is poetry at the cross-roads.
Last night I was initiated into the world of the twitter twub meeting. (I can’t even say it properly. What strange words for strange times.) The subject was restorative justice. It made me think once more about the role of words and their power. The pen is mightier than the sword they say. As poet, story-weaver, facilitator, seeker of peace, as friend, neighbour, witness, what are the powers of words? As teacher, mentor, executive, parent how do you shape reality with words?
I asked – and it is not an original question – whether words such as ‘victim’ or ‘perpetrator’ are always the right words to choose? There are times for them, granted. However cycles of violence, conflict, war often blur dividing lines – a ‘victim’ can be an aggressor; a perpetrator to another. When people are given labels they often won’t share words; won’t be part of the dialogue of change. I have come through violence but do not want to see myself or be seen as a victim. I see survivors with all the strength, pain and jagged edges. I have not had someone I love taken from me or my home torn apart. People who have, have the right to use what words they wish, to scream, to cry, hurt, heal. Yet the role of a poet, facilitator, mediator, story-weaver, historian should include choosing words with balance, words with the meaning and musicality to nurture reflection. The peace-keeper in a tribe needs surely to make sure all voices are heard and that there is integrity, dignity and in whatever ways possible, a personal way to engage with and atone.
‘Justice’ is another loaded word. Often words used for peace have a conflict within them. Justice is often seen as synonymous with punishment and shame but it is also represented by scales; it is the seeking of balance and equality. In this way it seeks healing for all those injured and ways to re-balance. Ghandi said ‘an eye for an eye will leave us all blind’. Instead of taking an eye we could interpret ‘an eye for an eye’ as giving sight; sharing different perspectives so we each see with both eyes and find ways where they exist for those who have hurt to be part of the healing and in so doing find their own balance. Some talk of non-violent communication. My introductory experience of a workshop in this can only be described as violent non-communication, passive aggression giving way to rage, accusation wailing and nashing of teeth. I was not convinced.
Words share stories as can shared silence. So my invitation is to become aware of the poetry in our everyday, the meaning and musicality of our words and those around us in the work-place, class-room, board-room, cafe or bus. What is the poetry in your everyday? I would love to know. How do our words shift the reality around us? How do you bend air?