When I was twenty-one and in social work school, I look a class in solution-focused brief therapy. Back in the day, this was cutting edge and transformational to the way in which traditional psychotherapy was taught: lengthy problem-focused assessment and detailed treatment planning requiring committed weeks, months, and possibly years of sessions. As a health care social worker, I knew that my time with my clients would be brief. I took that class to understand how to maximize my time with my clients. What I remember the most from that class was focusing in great detail on the selection and power of words. One of the books that we read, Words Were Originally Magic by Steve DeShazer, still sits on the shelves in my office. It reminds me of the transformational power of the words we choose. It reminds me that I must own and choose my words. It holds me in check to use my words wisely.
I have thoughtfully used words throughout my career, and I credit that class. Words are central to the counseling sessions that I have provided, key to my work with and within community as we bond together. The conceptual words I choose frame my research, and define the degree to which I respect people instead of planting labels. Words hold meaning and power for individuals and for community. Words are the essence translating my soul into my writing, or my speaking. Words find me when I am centered. At times, I feel words welling up in my soul and speaking them out loud, I know they are moving toward a destination. Words define my work life, my faith life, and my personal life.
Sometimes, when I hear the spoken words of others I can viscerally feel the power and meaning within them. The power of those spoken words found me tonight. Several of my undergraduate students have been learning to experience and use their words. They have been working all semester organizing dialogues, discussions, and protests to raise the awareness of race, power, privilege and oppression in our society. I share one class a week with them, and I remain in awe of how they take in information, allow it to amalgamate with their youthful enthusiasm and move this power combination of inspiration and language out into the world. Their words, through their social circles, are changing our world.
Tonight, I ended our class on a note that was more sermon than lecture, inviting the power of their own spoken words to transform everything from their Thanksgiving dinner tables, to their facebook profiles, to their most intimate relationships. In response, one of my students sent me this video of the peaceful protest she was involved in organizing last night. I share it tonight, as I reflect on the power of spoken word. Start at minute 3:51 for spoken words about race, color, oppression and hope that will sink into your soul and will change you.
This video…this spoken word…is tonight’s small point of light.