Our Words Matter

By Jennifer A. Minotti, Editor-in-Chief

PROMPT—My white privilege ...

New York Times bestselling author, spiritual teacher, and 30x guest on the Oprah Winfrey show, Gary Zukav, tells us: "Our evolution now requires us to align ourselves with the values of the soul—harmony, cooperation, sharing, and reverence for life."


I won't tire you out with musings on the current state of affairs. As the mother of a Jewish, mixed-race family, my awareness of and commitment towards today's multifarious crises is neither new, nor unrelenting. Terms like "common language..." "cancel culture..." "white supremacy..." "performative allyship..." "woke..." "power" and "unapologetic..." have infiltrated our present-day vernacular. It's hard to keep up, but I'm in it for the long haul and committed continually to learning and improving.


But truthfully? I'm exhausted by all of the words.


The intention is beyond worthy. Being informed and in service to others is a privilege I hold. And yet I'm left wondering what this rhetoric really means and why I inherently feel the limitations of its possibilities. I may be missing something, but if the goal is to unite, why am I repeatedly watching this rhetoric be used as fighting words? The multitude of times I have seen these words used as leverage or in desirous ways for one's own personal gain has left me crestfallen.


I want to be a collaborator, not an opponent.


Still, the irony does not escape me. I'm the founder of a journal whose mission is to provide a platform for people's words.


However, if words do not have an action associated with them, to make things better, I ask myself, "What are they for?"


For me, the creation of the Journal of Expressive Writing is the action behind my words. It is neither a hobby nor a job, but rather an act of social justice. A dream of mine for years, I envisioned a space where people could share their differences in perspective via writing to a prompt. The concept has always been simple. Give a dozen people the same writing prompt and you'll get a dozen different viewpoints.


These past months, I have had the privilege of reading and publishing the artistic expressions of dozens of gorgeous human beings who risked sharing their individual perspective with the world. To me, this is the highest act of being in service to others. To me, this epitomizes what it means to act.


Give regular people, artists, activists, creatives a chance to shine, and they will. All in their unique way. Cancer survivors, poets, CFOs, Veterans, Pushcart Prize nominees, incest survivors, Black lives, White lives, LGBTQIA2S+ Lives, BIPOC Lives, doctors, students, swing dance instructors, professional athletes, Torah teachers, kids, mothers, fathers ... the list is endless.


So finding a "common language" so that we may better understand one another? I'm still not convinced. Who decides this common language anyway? We have definitions and hashtags. Laws. Rules. Lots of letters after our names. But when it comes right down to the human spirit attempting to transcend both "unspeakable horrors unfolding" and "luck beyond belief and fairness" (words recently expressed by a dear friend of mine!), I believe there's only one common language.


The human language.


Human to human words.


Poet and activist, Audre Lorde famously said, "When we speak we are afraid our words will not be heard nor welcomed, but when we are silent we are still afraid, so it is better to speak."


I encourage everyone to dare to speak, in whatever way you need to, even when you're scared, even when you think you might get in "trouble." Use your words and your actions to elevate awareness of social and racial injustice. Catastrophe calls on us right now to create connections with one another, to hear one another, to learn from one another. Creative expression in service facilitates deeper understanding.


Our words matter. 


When we find our own voice—and we all have one—we are better able to hear others' voices. 


When we do, we will no longer feel "othered" and we will no longer feel the desire to "other" anyone else.


I tell the participants in my Women's Writing Circles that I never expect them to do anything that I wouldn't do. "Write what you're comfortable with," I tell them. But, WOW, you would be amazed at how courageous people are. Each and every time I facilitate a writing circle, I leave braver for having had the privilege of hearing their voices.


So these past few months, I too have been using my voice. In May, I spoke up. In June, I spoke up. These past two months, I spoke up. Sometimes I was met with gratitude. Other times with anger. I never, ever meant my words to be hurtful, but sometimes it was necessary to say what needed to be said. Speaking up is especially difficult when it involves people we care about. Speak up anyway. One day, I hope that when we are all truly able to listen—myself included—the world will come into balance. It's no coincidence that the ears regulate our equilibrium.


In order to stand up, we must first use our ears.


I'm so proud of the writers who spoke up and continue to speak up in the Journal of Expressive Writing. The world needs them. I need them. And they need us.


There is nothing "common" about that.


If I can say one last thing, I will leave you with this. Please do not get caught up in the rhetoric or social media sensationalism that continues to divide us. Let us use our voices to redefine hope in our own unique and creative ways.


Like a writing prompt, the choice is simple. We can choose division or we can choose connection.


Let connection be our work right now. Let's engage in #GoodTrouble together.


Let us be grateful for our privilege to speak up, and speak out.


Let us use our privilege—and our words—for good.

Jennifer A. Minotti is the Founder & Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Expressive Writing. She is an Artist-in-Residence at the Center for Women's Health and Human Rights at Suffolk University and a Ph.D. student at Lesley University. Jen is the founder of the Women’s Writing Circle, Co-creator of the World’s Very First Gratitude Parade, and helped establish Gratitude Day in the City of Cambridge, Massachusetts. For 17 years, Jen worked at Education Development Center (EDC) on projects that focused on education, health, and human development. She is a graduate of Boston University and Columbia University, and is passionate about expressive writing and spreading gratitude through her Gratitude Jar project.    


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