Is it Kind? Is it Necessary?

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Rabbit Room favorite Melanie Penn wrote these kind, necessary words on her blog recently and let us re-post them here. Melanie’s album Wake Up Love (produced by Ben Shive) is available in the store, and we’re certain you’ll love it. –The Proprietor

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I’ve been thinking about words. I’ve heard that the two questions below are good ones to ask before saying anything. In life-in-general, I agree. If I were to ask these two questions before speaking I’d probably spare myself a lot of conflict and a lot of gossipy nothingness that I tend to regret.

But what about as an artist? What about the artist’s life-in-general? Some would argue that art isn’t necessary (they’re wrong) and some would argue that art can be unkind (it can be). A dear friend recently stumbled upon something written about him on the internet. It was hurtful and scathing and a little bit true. It was a result of a lwakeuploveot of mistakes. It was a laundry list of complaints written in the name of “art.”

Talking with him about it made me wonder about songs and the lyrics to songs. What makes a lyric art? And what makes a lyric little more than a venting of personal frustrations and feelings? I can’t help but think that every word–no matter the setting–should be justified and weighed to see if it will do damage. I can’t help but think that artists have a unique call to be careful with words. Is each one necessary? Is each one kind?


12 Comments

  1. Laura Droege

    We must be thinking in a similiar vein, Melanie. I blogged today about having to be extremely careful how I use words; I’m a writer, by definition I use words every day, and words are not playthings to be thrown about foolishly.

    I’ve learned that the words I use to create my stories, blogs and novels need to be watched. Some words may be justified, others not. Am I ever justified in using a “bad” word in my fiction? Am I ever justified, is it ever necessary to be explicit with sexual content? I’ve had to think hard about this. I’ve concluded that I must weigh each word and ask, WHY have I included this word (four letter or otherwise)? Am I doing it to provoke, irritate, offend, or make an important point?

    Thanks for the great post, Melanie, and thanks to the Rabbit Room folks for posting your post. 🙂

  2. Nathaniel Miller

    Interesting. I have been thinking about my words a lot this summer at camp. We set goals as a staff and the second goal was to use edifying language. I have often wondered what would happen if we were as sharp and clever with our compliments and encouragements as we are with our pokes, jabs, and insults to one another. I set out to find out. It’s like discovering the way you have been playing an instrument all this time was incorrect and you stumble trying to relearn it. Most of my feeble attempts at complimenting came out as awkward or unintelligible. But even the attempts felt like they had more value than the words I threw out so carelessly before.

    Thank you for the post and thank you for such a great album. I have enjoyed it thoroughly. Even made sure that two of the songs got some air time at camp this summer.

  3. Melanie Penn

    Hi Nathaniel & Laura – didn’t realize this was posted already! I was caught up in the Counting Stars excitement!!!

    Nathaniel – that is such a great point about being as clever with our praise as we our with our jabs. Wow.

    I’ve also been thinking about destructive phrases we say so casually, like “(insert item) is just KILLING me.” or “I’m starving to death.” Really? “Killing”? “Death”? It takes my breath away when I consider that there actually is a lot of killing going around – and a lot of death – however one minor annoyance or my missing a snack hardly qualifies as either.

    Laura – I have one song that is a bit of a put-down to someone and it still makes me cringe a little bit. I wonder if I’ll sing it anymore … it’s a good song actually, and captures a sentiment everyone can relate to – but still … is it kind? Is it necessary? 🙂

  4. Laura Droege

    OK, Melanie, you and I ARE thinking along the same lines!

    Earlier this week, I was contemplating how casually we use words like “killing” “starving” etc. I’d heard an instance of using the word “suicide” to describe a particular action: not a literal sucide, but someone doing something that the other person thought was self-destructive because he/she disagreed with the action.

    (I once had a professor tell me that I’d almost “committed academic suicide” by taking so many classes in one term.)

    No one who has ever contemplated suicide or lost someone to suicide would use this word in a joking or inaccurate way. I think we can do a lot of damage by throwing around terms like this in this way. Sigh: I wish I could ALWAYS remember this truth!

  5. Sarah

    these are great questions and a great rule of thumb in day to day life for sure. i also find myself asking the “necessary” one especially when it comes to writing—any and all forms—for work or for pleasure. i remember reading something francine prose wrote when it came to the art of writing, and she said, “put every word on trial for its life.” if only i used the same consideration when speaking. i think i would do a lot more listening then speaking and probably be a lot better off!

  6. Elisabeth

    I hope it’s not too late to comment … for the first time no less! I just want to say thank you for this post. I REALLY appreciate the thoughtful insight you share. I don’t write songs, but stories … books. I deeply desire to write considerate words of LIFE and appreciate this encouragement to do so.

  7. Dan R.

    I hope it’s not ever too late to comment. Given what we’re talking about, I’d think that if we deem something worth saying, that it would hopefully be worth reading, in its proper context, no matter what the time frame.

    Nathaniel, I think what you talked about, as Melanie has noted, is something that needs to be said more often. I had a professor once who referred to this as “nitpicking for the good,” consciously looking for ways to build others up, and it’s stuck with me ever since. And it doesn’t come easy, as you’ve recounted so well, but I love the way that it’s like the redemption of something in us that so often causes such damage.
    Isn’t that kind of attitude a great testimony?

  8. Pracades

    Melanie and Laura–your second set of comments reminds me of a conversation I had with my four-year-old this week. We have been talking a lot about word choice, why some words are inappropriate, etc. My little boy has a common, but excessive obsession with guns, beating up bad guys, etc and we’ve told him not to use the word kill when playing. Then my husband or I nonchanlantly used it in a similar phrase, “This is killing me.” I can’t even recall why we said it now. So of course my sweet, know-it-all little boy points out, “Mommy, don’t say ‘kill’ , it’s not a nice word.” Gut check. Heart check. How important our choice of words are.

    I am a queen of spiteful words used in defense of my shaky self-confidence. When my husband and I argue, I fire out insults without even thinking in order to “protect myself” or perhaps, to provoke him, subconsciously. I am reminded of the lyric “after the last brutal jab from a poisoned tongue.” That’s me. If there was anything I needed to work on more, although, of course there is more than one thing, it would be the choice of my words in such situations, and even in conversations of everyday life. Thank God there is love and grace even after these things are said.

    Thanks for this post, it was a great reminder, an accountability for me to put more thought into what I am saying. Nathaniel, it is now my prayer to use more”edifying language” to build others up every day. And I will most certainly start asking myself, “Is it kind, is it necessary?”

  9. Melanie Penn

    Hey everybody! Now I hope I’m not too late to comment tho I probably am. I’ve been somewhat offline so that I can write songs this week. So far I have 2 down which is like lightning speed for me.

    I really enjoyed reading these comments, and love the idea of “nitpicking for the good.” If Christ Himself is the Word, and if in the beginning was the WORD, then certainly our meagre verbal offerings have significance. And I bet that significance is eternal. Yikes. Here’s to proceeding with caution.

  10. Paula Jacobson

    This is something I deeply consider when writing a song as well as any short commentary. I am not a seasoned writer and am in fact very insecure about anything I write, knowing that I flunked my English class in High School. But there is something in me that is driven to pen thoughts or create song, so I plod with all the baggage of literary, grammatical and insufficient muse in all my works.

    Your comment about “words” and how we flippantly or loosely use them, pricks me every time I pen a thought, etc… Having this lack of experience makes me consider every word. I feel as a person fully clothed, but as I write and start using a word to describe my feelings or situation, I get this vulnerable feeling that I am undressing and by the time I am done I am stoke naked.

    I squirm and writhe for covering and yet I must take the chance that someone out there understands at what I am trying to say. If I were to give into my insecurities, I would never try my hand at anything. I am driven to fight this monster, even if I make the wrong choice in word or thought. Failing forward is my hope. But I take every word and ponder it’s meaning in hopes that I understand it so as to motivate thought or feeling for someone else. I hope this makes sense.

    I write life’s experiences in song, hopefully giving hope and encouragement to those that are struggling or have struggled with the same thing. Also, I hope to give out platter filled with condiments of laughter, joy, conviction and love. There is no guarantee that it please their pallets, but it is there for anyone who has an appetite.

    Thanks again for your comments which has inspired me to continue to ruminate on every word written.

    God Bless You,
    In love, care and hope,
    Paula Jacobson

  11. Dan R.

    Paula: The last part of your comment reminded me of something I found here a while back, though I can’t seem to find it again. I think it was earlier this year that there was a ‘song-of-the-day’ post about Bill Malonee featuring his song Skin (done with the Vigilantes of Love), which is generally about the same things you were talking about – courage in the face of vulnerability, etc. I still consider that song very valuable, and well-written. I’m not sure if you read that post, but it might be worth your time to find the song and give it a listen.

  12. Paula

    Hey There Dan,

    I read your response to my comment back in August, but am now only able to respond to it.

    Thank you for your lead to the song, Skin. I did find it on YouTube. It is just as you said, a valuable song.

    Still working on that vulnerability, but as the days will have it, I ripen as I write.

    Paula~

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