Do words conspire to make us who we are?

‘What a miserable day,’ say the words and then it is. Words come and go, seizing every opportunity, not only the weather. Where do they come from, these words? They seem to be making up my life. Why can’t I stop them? ‘What a miserable day,’ and before I know it I feel miserable.

‘What’s on your mind,’ people say, when I look miserable. ‘Words are on my mind,’ I say, truthfully. The way they stare back at me speaks volumes: ‘puzzlement’, ‘alarm’, ‘pity’. Words disguised as body-language. You’d have to be a psychotherapist to figure out what they’re up to next.

They are good at building castles in the air, these words. ‘What’s on your mind?’ As if my mind was solid. And how can a cold and rainy day be more than cold and rainy? Maybe words are the fifth element? Just as our bodies need fire, air, earth and water, do our minds need words?

Could it be they use our minds like ‘Play-Do’, each word moulding bits of our minds in their own image and animating our thoughts and feelings with themselves? Oddly enough, it feels quite safe like that, even when the words play on the not-so-nice feelings like anger, frustration or worry. At least you know where you are.

Maybe the words even tell us who we are. Are our minds invisible journals where words are making up scripts for our lives? What if it is these words talking me into this pleasant state, making me feel I’m on safe ground, making me think I’m getting a bit closer to who I am? You never can tell.

Trouble is words aren’t safe. They’re suddenly there, out of nowhere, guns blazing. ‘Notice of Intended Prosecution,’ they shout, as I peel the A4-size letter from its envelope, and ‘That ring, where is it?’ ‘Offence Date.’ ‘They’ve found the body.’ ‘Offence Location.’ ‘Which body?’ ‘I never murdered anybody.’  ‘Offence Time.’ (1)

Words running amok… ‘Confusion.’ ‘Fear.’ ‘Terror.’ ‘The Cheshire Constabulary is after me,’ they shout with my voice, with my ‘me’. Head rattles, sinuses vibrate, heart pumps. (2)  ‘Don’t worry, it’s not important in the grand scheme of things,’ words say behind my back. I turn round and see a smile. She puts her arm round me.

These words give me no peace, not even for the length of a smile. A hug, a kiss, a moment of bliss, it all goes into their invisible journals, our minds, for making up our life-dramas mirroring back to us who we are page after page after page. They stamp meaning on every moment of our life and file it under past, present and future.

‘When I give the word, run!’ ‘I always keep my word.’ ‘I’ll put in a good word for you.’ ‘He’s as good as his word.’ ‘I’m a man of my word.’ A perfect camouflage! Until it hits me: It’s not me that runs the show but them. Could it be that ‘I’m a man of my word’ hides this equation: ‘my word’ equals ‘my lord and master’ and ‘I’m a man of’ equals ‘I’m a servant of’? My word!

I’ve always known words rule. What they say goes. They stick the label ‘miserable’ on me and miserable I am. They say ‘I’m happy, angry, worried, confused or even a thief and murderer’ and ‘I’ fall in line. How clever they are, these words, making me think without them I’m nothing. Until one day the penny drops.

I take a deep breath, feel the fear and do it anyway, that dreaded ‘Speed Awareness’ course. ‘Confusion’, ‘Fear’, ‘Terror’, going, going, gone… Ring, body, not seen or heard of again… Speed awareness: being considerate to each other as human beings, lovely day plus better driving skills. What can I say?

Feel the fear and do it anyway. Feel my fear and do it anyway. Maybe it works with all other words as well. Feel my terror, feel my anger, feel my happiness. Have I got new friends? Or has that mighty God of ‘Inference’ gone on holiday? So words aren’t just playing games on my brain page, they also have the cheek to imply, infer and suggest I mean something else.



(1) A ‘Speed Awareness’ course was offered to me by the Cheshire Constabulary for speeding.

(2) Der Spiegel (11/10/10) ‘In Praise of Fear’. Translation of the beginning of an article on fear in the German magazine.

‘Fear can paralyse us and make us ill, but it can also inspire us and give us wings: Studies carried out by psychologists and brain specialists over a number of years show how fundamentally fear can shape our personality. Already in childhood there are unmistakable signs to what extent the behaviour of a human being will be dominated by fear throughout his adult life.’


Further reading:

Jeffers, S.J. (1988) Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway, Fawcett Columbine, New York.

Fromm, E. (2001) Fear of Freedom, Routledge, London.

Kierkegaard, S. (2005) Fear and Trembling, Penguin, London.