The Value of Words

Awhile ago Emma wrote, “Talking is hard because I like to say silly things that people take seriously and that is why I am misunderstood.”

Yesterday Richard referenced Emma’s “silly things” but without the full quote and I think some may have read his words and thought he was suggesting her spoken words were silly, when he was actually quoting Emma.  But the context is everything and when Emma wrote the above, it was about written language versus spoken. I was reminded of my friend, Leah Kelley who has a blog, Thirty Days of Autism.  About a year ago, Leah posted a video that I thought so hysterical, I had to share it and have since watched it many times.  It’s called Bulbous Bouffant.

I dare anyone to watch this video and not smile.  Me?  I laughed out loud. Did any of you join in, saying the words out loud?  I did.  Was this silly of me?  YES!  I love silly.  Silly is way under rated.  How much more fun would we all have if we could engage in conversations like this one?  Those of you who hate clicking on links, you’re going to have to… go on, just do it.  It’s hilarious.

We live in a world where this sort of conversation is not exactly encouraged.  In fact, most people, if they encountered such a person while waiting for the bus or subway would probably try to politely extricate themselves from such a conversation.  Someone who spoke, as the person in the video does, would be thought odd and would be avoided.  He might even frighten people.

A few months ago, Emma wrote,  I am intelligent and cannot speak with the same brilliant words that are in my mind.”  And I understood completely what she was saying.  We need to show that we are intelligent before we can lapse into the silliness of enjoying the sounds of a word, simply because it’s fun, or admit that a word makes us happy, not because of its meaning, but just because of the way it feels and sounds while saying it.  Intelligence first and then silliness can ensue, but if intelligence isn’t proven, then silliness becomes “inappropriate” or “weird” or any number of other words we use when we think someone is not like us and less than.

Yesterday Emma wrote, “I troubled you when I intended to talk and words told different tales than I thought.”  I have to say it made me sad to read her words because she’s right, it did trouble me, and had I known how bright she was, I would not have been so troubled.  But this is also a problematic statement because it’s focused on perceived intelligence and shows a definite prejudice towards those who are defined as “intelligent” versus those who are not.  That actually goes against everything I believe.   ALL human beings should be treated equally, with respect, love and kindness, no matter what their perceived intelligence is.  And yet, my obvious prejudice is there and so this is something I will look at and be more aware of.  Without awareness, I cannot change.

So when Emma then wrote, “I realize any words are valued more than silence” I understood her to mean her “written words” because those are the words we applaud her for, those are the words we quote and talk about, those are the words we say, “Here!  Read this!”  Partly because they are so insightful and wonderfully wise, but also because they prove, beyond a doubt, how very bright she is.  But also there’s a hierarchy in our culture –  the more spoken language an Autistic child has, the “higher” functioning they are deemed.  Spoken language in our culture is everything.

Except what about all those people who have not found a way to express themselves? What about those who cannot express “profound insights”?  Are they less important?  Are they somehow less human?  Are they not deserving of the same respect and treatment we so easily and readily give to those who speak eloquently and brilliantly?

“I realize any words are valued more than silence.”




16 responses to “The Value of Words

  1. Intelligence is something of a recent measure of human beings. That measure is co-opted to whatever collective system-processes prevail: so the economic system-process, the socio-political system-process, the cultural meaning-making system-process. So what we mean by intelligence has become a measure of performance within these system-processes. Education is the system-process which prepares us for performing and arranges us hierarchically regards that.

    Silliness is ultimately subversive of the order all this brings about. It can’t be outlawed, because of its stout organic basis; but it is carefully monitored and regulated. Silliness is, from the point of view of prevailing collective order, potentially the thin-end of a wedge of social-disorder.

    Persons who too organically subscribe to silliness over intelligence/performance, risk all sorts of reductive negative categorisations. It then turns out that to survive and thrive as a silly person, you have to be hyper-intelligent, in order to track and map and fend-off such reductive negation of your person.

    • Oh Colin!!

      “Silliness is ultimately subversive of the order all this brings about. It can’t be outlawed, because of its stout organic basis; but it is carefully monitored and regulated. Silliness is, from the point of view of prevailing collective order, potentially the thin-end of a wedge of social-disorder.”

      You’ve said this so well!!

  2. This article and the video reminded me of something I still love to do, collect words (actually it would be more accurate to say that collect cool rhythmic combinations of syllables. Some of my friends loving teased me, when I would use the same word over over in a day, simply because I love the sound of words. I still collect them, but I expand it to different languages. Beluga is a favourite sounding word of mine!

  3. Marie Brennan

    When Mozart was young someone asked him what he liked best about the music he was playing. He said he loved the silence between the notes.

    At church we always have an opening song and a closing song. After each song there is a silence, and in the silence there is a prayer.

    Without silence, sound isn’t as lovely, and spiritual grace can’t be felt.

    Silence is important. It helps us hear our inner selves.

  4. That video is exactly what I do. I stim on the sounds of words. “Rubber dinghy.” I can’t even say “Fatty Arbuckle” without fits of laughter. And when I get tickled by a word, my boyfriend starts looking for every excuse to use it until I am laughing so hard I can barely breathe. I will have to share the video with him. “Beluga” is even one of “my” words.

    • Oh I love both of those and yeah, nobody can say Fatty Arbuckle and not at least smile. (I laughed)

      • I showed my boyfriend the video and he was amazed. “They made that just for you, didn’t they?” He asked, because it is so much like the way I play with words in my mouth and ears. We have been greeting each other now with “GALOSHES!” 🙂 he also said that he can see why I love your whole family so much and that you are clearly ‘my kind of people.’ And he’s right; you are!

  5. “What about all those people who have not found a way to express themselves?” is what I think about EVERY DAY. So MANY people! How different everything would be, if this changed. You give me hope that it will, Emma! I am bringing my friend Brent to Soma in June… he is 45 years old and never had any help communicating like this. No one talked about autism when he was in school, he was always in the ID (intellectual disability) system. He is excited to ‘go to college’. I am so excited for him! And YES! I loved listening to this video so much….

    • Oh this makes me so, so happy to hear. Please tell Brent he’s not the only one who didn’t find Soma until much later in life. Very exciting and so happy for Brent!

  6. sophiestrains

    The video (and the article as well) made me think of Sophie. Her favourite thing to do is to get us to say certain words that tickle her brain in a specific way. Those change but right now they are “oh bother!” and “but sir!” (thomas influence, obviously). She prompts us to say them all the time and laughs and laughs. The easiest way to become her friend is to get down to her level and exclaim “oh bother!” 🙂 and yes, language is considered a reflection of intelligence, and it is something I reflect on as well… but silence is undervalued I find. I love moments of silence and prefer them to mindless chatter any day.

  7. Brilliant ❤ Happy Mother's Day Ariane!

  8. Omg favorite qoute is defiantly “I am intelligent and cannot speak with the same brilliant words that are in my mind ” -Emma. This designates with me more than I can say and seeing this qoute made me feel more than I can describe some things can’t be described right Emma? 😀

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