It’s Not “Just Words,” Folks.
The danger of dismissing the language we use.
Last week, I had a chance to meet and listen to incredibly powerful, smart and resilient women. I leaned forward in my chair, mesmerized by the courage oozing from their stories. Tellings of how to get in the board room, how to be more visible, and how to fight even the most subtle forms of gender bias in the workplace were akin to a Hunger Games plot. So much calculation to survive and thrive, all while supporting those around them.
As opposed to several panels I see, there were no egos. Their mistakes were shared with raw, uncensored vulnerability. Their strategies were told with excitement. And their honest desire to help other women and to eradicate fear was all-consuming. The stories were meant to empathize and empower — and for me, it worked.
It was the first time I had opened up in such a large group about how scared I am to start my own business and how difficult it is for me to stand strong in a sea of men in my industry. How I stalk their credentials on LinkedIn after meeting at a happy hour and let their accolades crumble my confidence even more. How I dilute my conviction and dismiss my experience, because being liked is easier than being courageous. Or how I convince myself that it’s better to take less money to avoid contract negotiations with new clients, even though I’ve told myself time and time again… I know I’m worth more than this.
The responses I received were so overwhelming and supportive, I had to fight back the tears. That day will go down in history for me. There is no greater power than the love and support and selfless guidance from fellow women. And there is no better time to highlight the importance of fostering this type of dialogue.
Subtle sexism and misogyny are a daily occurrence, yes, even in San Francisco… and especially in tech. I am proud and grateful and want to acknowledge the men in my life who really *see* me. Who know the force I bring and the value I provide. And most of all, who know how to support without displacing me.
They know my empathy is what makes me powerful and my conviction is what makes me invaluable. And that when I say I will give it my all, and I will do my best, I mean it. These are not just men; they are influencers. Even as strong as I may come off, they carry an impact in how I see myself and how I define my capabilities.
Although I feel ashamed to admit it, for most of my life, the opinions of men carried a greater weight than any woman I knew. I saw myself through their eyes. I defined my worth through their words. I made decisions based on their actions and reactions.
So to be in a place where I am loved by a man who saw me for the person I am and the woman I want to be — I am speechless. There are no words I can find to describe the experience of being seen so clearly that it makes me stronger and more courageous every day. It is a rare and beautiful gift that everyone deserves.
Vulnerability and self-worth are journeys I travel less fearfully because of the men and women I surround myself with. Because of the kind words they speak when I need them, and the courage they have in me when I’ve lost mine. I channel their love and strength to move past the hard parts of being a woman and an entrepreneur.
There are so many moments in my week when I realized how insanely lucky I am to have this magical force field — to have a group of people who assume the role of unconditional love and support. Nothing will stand a chance against me and my fleet of courage.
And then, while riding high on all that love, I see the video and hear the words spewed by one of the most wreckless speakers I’ve heard…
“By now many of you have probably heard the tape or read the transcript of the conversation between Donald Trump and Billy Bush. Some people are dismissing it as “guy talk” and “locker room banter.” Let’s be clear: Calling this “guy talk” is an insult to all of the good men and boys out there. This is what rape culture looks like and sounds like. And Billy Bush’s laughing along is also what rape culture looks like. I was raised by a republican and a democrat. This is NOT about politics. There are millions of good men who would never demean women and girls like this.” — Brene Brown
Then tonight, during the second Presidential Debate, Donald Trump responds to the video with a callous “it’s just words, folks.” I nearly choked. I can’t even imagine how many people will utter that same, ignorant phrase. “It’s just words.” The things we say are not just words, they are indicative of our intent. They represent who we are.
Words are influential. They travel deep and can withstand time and experience, for better or worse. They attach themselves to the most complex parts of who we are. Words have the power to ignite a part of us we didn’t know was there, and parts of us we wish didn’t exist.
When words are full of compassion and love, they fuel faith and resilience. But when words are hurtful and hinge on fear, they corrode our hearts, our minds, and our communities. And when those words come from people of power and exposure, they are amplified. They are repeated. They are internalized. And they are adopted as truth.
Words pile together to make stories. And stories are how we articulate our values, how we see the world and how we see each other. They are what we share with children to contextualize things that are hard to understand. They are what we use when we want to connect and be seen.
So after a day of hearing stories that left me feeling so fulfilled and powerful and strong and unstoppable, it deeply pains me to hear a Presidential candidate utter such disgusting, irrevocable words. Not because I am surprised or register anything Donald Trump says as valid.
I am disturbed and outraged because these words will find their way into the hearts and minds of people who don’t have the access and opportunity to see beyond them. They don’t have that special force field of love and acceptance. There are impressionable young women and men out there who let others define them. They will internalize this garbage, and it will impact the way they identify themselves and others to a violent and terrifying degree.
Actions and words are fueled by one another. We cannot give weight to how we act without acknowledging the language that was used to ignite those actions.
Words have the power to transcend us. The voice of reason, love, and tolerance amplifies the value of all lives, all people. The stories we tell today are what will define our legacy. The words we say are what frame reality for those tiny but mighty minds who are listening carefully as their parents speak.
So when the time comes, please use your words and your power to write a legacy of faith, of love, and of appreciation for all life. Carve out a space for those who need to be seen. Amplify the voices that have been silenced.
And for those who are feeling all consumed, never doubt that your voice holds any less weight than that of a giant. Because we are your forcefield now, and our love is impenetrable.
If this post resonated with you, please recommend it, share it and use it to fuel your own courage. It’s a group effort here.