Humans, much like machines, respond to specific information with a specific response. Whether the response represents a misunderstanding of the information (like an error) or a function of the information (like the fulfillment of a Promise), each and every human interaction is simply an exchange of information. The ways humans exchange information are manifold and the majority of them are subconscious. I do not claim to know what these subconscious exchanges are or how they work, however I am certain they exist. This essay discusses the primary, conscious channel humans use to communicate with one another: the “word”. Exchanges via this channel are often taken for granted due to the ubiquity with which they are transmitted.

More often than not, the primary tool you use to pass information to other humans is the “word.” Whether spoken or written, words are powerful tools. They encapsulate meaning in little packages of mostly arbitrary characters that are associated with sounds (we call these “letters”). Words can be recorded, invented, jumbled, combined, and contextualized in countless ways. Every word I say to you is an agreement between you and I that this sound or this string of characters stands for this idea. Careful and intentional word choice really increases the likelihood of clear communication.

We have been familiar with this concept for so long that we take it for granted. This familiarity unfortunately makes room for abuse, even on a grand, societal scale.

Some words are not “just words.” Some words inspire hatred, fear, disgust, and sadness. Some words are truly better left unsaid. It is important to be aware of these words and comprehend their meaning because depending on context and intention, a single slip-up can change someone’s life. The agreements with these words are typically strong within a culture at large and understood by a fairly young age. You know what these words are in your culture.

Much like computers, humans receiving the wrong word at the wrong time can lead to errors of misunderstanding that have major consequences.

Encountering another person with whom you share a large set of agreements (language, culture) is remarkable on the scale of human life. Your thread is sufficiently intertwined with their thread that an interaction has surfaced. Your actions (words, gestures) are merging with their actions. It is important to recognize the weight of these interactions and act with wisdom, no matter the interaction. When you take a moment to recognize the importance of a word before you say it, you give appreciation to the billions of years of evolution that went into that word. You sense its importance and feel the power of expression it provides you. This may feel unnatural at first. We use so many words so frequently. They all can’t possibly mean that much, can they?