As a writer, I should know better and as a parent, it is critical: Words are meaningful and when we use violent language to describe our feelings, we contribute to a culture that is numb to the effects of killing.
Since Dec. 14, when a madman entered an elementary school intent on slaughter, I've become hyper-aware of the permeation of violence all around me and my kids. Last week, my 8-year-old was innocently playing an app on her iPod that involves fairies and magic potions while we drove from one place to another, and she asked me if she could "buy a gun to kill some people" in her game.
I replied maybe a little more vehemently than I intended to and opened up a discussion with her about guns and killing and violence that I probably could have handled with a little more parenting aplomb. I'm here to tell you that talking to your kids about guns and violence is a lot harder than telling them where babies come from.
In other words, if she wants to talk about sex, I'm ready. If she wants to know why she can't pretend to kill a bad fairy with an animated musket, I'm all thumbs.
However, we stumbled through a short conversation about why guns were invented, how responsible people use them and how some guns just aren't good and are meant for just one thing and that's to kill people. Afterward, I spent about an hour berating myself and then I spent another hour researching and thinking about how better to explain to her that I want to create an atmosphere in our home of love and kindness for all, and that means not engaging in violent play.
For me, I realized after some soul-searching, it also means being aware of what I do and say in order to set that example.
I can't keep saying that I want to kill people, or shoot myself or ask anyone else to kill me.
No, I don't really want to kill people. I don't want to kill myself, nor do I want anyone else to kill me. But I say those things all the time, without a thought. If I'm staring down the barrel of a long day, I've been known to quip, "Someone, please kill me."
If I'm in the car and I don't like someone's driving, I have been known to shout, "Ugh, I could kill someone today!"
And so on, and so forth.
My kids have watched shows that include maybe a little too much violence, cartoon or otherwise. I let it slide because hey, we watched Wile E. Coyote die a thousand deaths and we're OK, right?
No, we aren't OK. And no, Wile E. Coyote isn't to blame. But we do exist in a society that is absolutely saturated with violent games, language, movies, TV shows, books... the list goes on and on.
Yes, violence exists in the real world. Yes, violence has a place in literature and film. Yes, we have to cope with violence because it is in our nature to commit these acts against one another.
However, I will do my best to no longer contribute to the culture of death that circles around my kids. I don't want to kill anyone, ever. I know from personal experience what death looks like up close and personal, and death leaves grief and destruction in its wake for the living for the rest of their lives.
Loss hurts, loss destroys.
Just as language can lift us up and inspire us, language can debase us, make us less than, words can dehumanize us and we can dehumanize one another when we threaten violence in our everyday slang. As someone who spends her days on the Internet, I say with authority that people are careless with words like "war," "kill," "throat-punch," and so much more.
I'm not going to say I want to kill you anymore. I hope you don't want to kill me for saying that.