Words matter

Memo to Myself: If I want to enter into a meaningful conversation about racism and the experiences of my sisters and brothers of color, I need to avoid any use of the phrase “All Lives Matter” or any particular version of it.

Words matter. Words can heal or words can hurt. I may state what I believe is true, but if I’m not caring and thoughtful I can either diminish or dismiss what is true for you.

If you come to me as a friend and say, “I’m really depressed today” and my response is, “Lots of people are really depressed today,” I’ve already watered down your concern and told you that I don’t take your feelings seriously.

If you have a particular issue and you tell me, “I’m hurting” and my response is “There are people in situations a lot worse than yours who are hurting more”, I’m not only being insensitive and uncaring, but I’m also changing the subject, and I’ve cut off all possibility of meaningful conversation

If someone cries, “Black Lives Matter” and I respond with “All Lives Matter”, I am being insensitive, diminishing, and combative instead of caring and listening.

When you express your hurts to me, you are asking me to listen, to learn, and to be present with you. You don’t need my opinions about your position in the rest of the world’s concerns no matter how true that may be; perhaps we can get to that later, but that’s not the starting point.

I don’t hear “Black Lives Matter” as a dualistic challenge that demands a defense, as if it says “My life matters so your life doesn’t matter as much.” I hear it as a cry of pain that invites me to listen, to learn, and to challenge my own thoughts and behavior that might have contributed to the pain.

Is everyone important? Of course. Do I care about the experiences of police, gays, immigrants, farmers, etc.? Of course. There is a time a place for expressing all of that. But first I need to listen to the pain of my sisters and brothers who are crying out to me. And if mis-appropriating the words they use to express their pain cuts off the conversation, I want to be attentive to my words.

Words matter if I really want to engage in conversation.

Karl Kumpf



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