June 3, 2011: Would you really kill for a pair of those shoes? by Sarah Jenkins

For the past 20 months, I have been the editor and coordinator of the “Year of Peace” columns that have been published in the Blade-Empire since the end of September 2009.

That means I have read every single word of every single column, written by young teens, college students and their instructors, Catholic sisters and social workers, even gardeners and graduates of impressive-sounding universities.

There have been 75 columns (so far).

Some have been incredibly well written.

A few have been truly touching.

A handful were inspirational.

And another handful were philosophical.

All have been heartfelt.

But only one made me stop and honestly assess one aspect of “nonviolence” in my life, and what pulled me up short was just one line in that one column. It was in a column written by Kaleb Pounds, then an eighth-grader at Concordia Junior High School, and published on Feb. 26, 2010. This was the headline: ‘Disarming the heart’ means replacing negatives with positive action

And this was the one line: “Practice using peaceful words.”

Maybe it’s the three decades I spent as a reporter and editor, including a short stint writing sports headlines. Maybe that explains why I favor action verbs — a headline writer can only use “win” so many times.

Then we start looking for verbs with more action, with more clout, if you will, with more oomph.

Like “beat,” “trounce,” “wallop,” “strike down,” “conquer.”

(Go ahead, check the Sports page.)

In the wake of the January rampage in Tucson that left six people dead and 14 injured, there was almost endless angst about a connection between violent language and violent action. But my own epiphany from Kaleb’s column was much more simple than that.

How often do I use violent language and imagery when peaceful words would work just as well?

I check out that latest killer app.

I want traffic to our website to explode.

I pull the trigger on a plan.

I blast through a meeting.

I’d kill for a pair of those shoes.

And then I wonder, is this really just semantics? Am I needlessly worrying about words when I know I really wouldn’t kill for those shoes?

Maybe not.

The fact that I worry about it, even a little, means I stop to think — more often than not after the words have left my mouth, but I still stop to think.

I think about how the language of violence pervades so much of our speech; I think about how our speech portrays violent action without us even recognizing the fact. We say it so much we no longer hear what it truly means.

And I worry that if we listen to kids talking to each other, it’s even worse.

(Much of what they say can’t be printed in a family newspaper, but trust me — it’s crude and violent and they don’t think we’re listening.)

But I am listening, and with my grandkids I ask them what the words mean, and I challenge them: Do those words really reflect who you are and how you act?

Then I ask them to join me in following Kaleb’s suggestion:

Practice using peaceful words.


— Sarah Jenkins was a newspaper reporter and then editor for 31 years. She has been communications director for the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia since January 2009.

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