I’ve been somewhat unsettled in recent weeks hearing masses around the world chanting “I can’t breathe”. I believe in the power of the tongue in creating wellness and illness in our bodies.
I pin my hopes on George receiving justice: what was done to him was an abomination. I firmly believe that the systems that stand in place to perpetuate injustice and prejudice should be exposed and torn away—all the wrongs of those who are silenced and told that their opinions don’t matter.
I wasn’t going to write this post. This has been sitting in my drafts for two weeks. Not my place to comment. I didn’t want to be one to criticise.
But does holding back my voice not make me part of the problem, rather than contributing to a solution? So, let me say this clearly:
I am horrified by the continued use of the slogan”I can’t breathe“.
On the one hand, it’s great for the media. On the other hand, do those chanting it consider the double-edged sword it can be for their health?
Words spoken by masses with strong emotions: powerful stuff.
Calling into existence that which is spoken.
The question is: what does it create?
What spells are we casting?
We laugh at “abracadabra” – but many believe that the word actually has meaning and power.
Scholars who support the Hebrew etymology say that abracadabra is a corruption of the Hebrew, ebrah k’dabri, meaning “I will create as I speak,” ie that the act of speech will magically create new realities. … the words and letters of the Hebrew alphabet have the power to create.
Similarly, you may scoff at those that use affirmations and recite promises to themselves or God, claiming a blessing or healing.
But what if words and thoughts and emotions do have power?
This is particularly true of words spoken full of emotion.
What if I can’t breathe has power?
The first reference I can find to this slogan arises in late 2014, shortly after the asphyxiation of Eric Gardner by a police officer. His last words “I can’t breathe”, were raised like a mantra in the protests that followed in New York City.
“There was this quote staring me in the face, and that’s something that should be the quote of the year,” Shapiro recalled.
So the Yale Law Library’s associate director and lecturer revised his 2014 list, placing “I can’t breathe” in the top slot. His widely cited annual list, which is intended to capture the political and cultural mood of the country each year, serves as a supplement to “The Yale Book of Quotations,” originally published in 2006.
‘I can’t breathe.’ Eric Garner’s last words are 2014’s most notable quote, according to a Yale librarian
Unfortunately, when I took a quick look at the 2014-15 flu deaths for that same period, there was a small spike – from the usual 36,000 a year up to 51,000. Mere coincidence? Quite likely. There are probably a million factors that played a part in the increase. Again in 2017, when the book “I can’t breathe” by Matt Kaibbi comes out, and Queen Ifrica publishes her song “I can’t breathe”: we get another spike up to 61,000 flu deaths. Probably irrelevant.
However, at this moment in history, following on the heels of mass sickness caused by a little-studied virus, we have angry crowds chanting “I can’t breathe”. We have media pushing fear and uncertainty. We have politicians using fear for personal safety and security for their platforms and personal gain.
So, if our words do have power and every cell of our body is eavesdropping on our thoughts, emotions and words – recreating what we declare into existence – how important then are the words that we choose to chant in protest?
Justice for George becomes much more powerful than I can’t breathe if we believe that we have a hand in creating an outcome!
Every cell in your body is eavesdropping.
In the same way that our mind is aware of everything that goes on in our body, our body and cells are listening and experiencing our thoughts, emotions and words. Unfortunately, our body takes those thoughts, emotions and words literally.
Our cells don’t differentiate when we are protesting from when we are having a phone call or merely meditating alone. Your body experiences your thoughts, emotions and words as they are. You can’t tell your body “I was just joking”.
Like a child that doesn’t understand sarcasm, our body responds to what was said and doesn’t take a joke. It takes everything we feel, say and think quite seriously.
In many different teachings, we find the effects of emotions on our organs:
- anger: affects the liver
- fear: affects the kidneys
- grief: weakens the lungs
- worry: affects the stomach
- stress: wreaks havoc on your heart and mind
Examine, for a moment, how your words spoken with emotion are affecting different parts of your body.
Consider your inner child and the children around you:
We all have the voice of an inner critic stuck in our heads – and quite often it’s the voice of a parent, teacher or someone we respected or feared as a child. The voice that our child hears now is the voice that will become their inner critic in the future.
Do we want our children to have an inner voice that says “I can’t breathe”?
What are our children hearing and experiencing in the chants and protests? How are we explaining the situation to them? What conversations do we have that allow understanding, compassion and wisdom to guide the experience?
Consider a child: how do you build them up after you’ve stripped them down with words said in anger? Think for a moment about any relationship where words have been spoken in anger: if you don’t move past the hatred into love, understanding and acceptance, what footing is your relationship on?
The protests in Panama are not about Black Lives Matter: they are about the lock-down and people going hungry. I have it so much easier in what I have to explain! But I still have to explain to my daughter the images, emotions and even violence that she is witnessing if she catches the news.
At the same time, I explain how incredible our bodies and immune systems are! I talk about how we eat, and even how our emotions and thoughts can help us stay healthy and strong. I check myself any time I notice that I am feeling fearful or anxious: careful not to stuff it down but to release it. I don’t need my daughter to latch onto my fear or anxiety!
In the same way, I have to relate and quieten that inner child of my own: that part of me that feels insecure in any way.
The power of your thoughts
Your thoughts influence your words and your actions. Long before you choose to do something, you have probably considered it multiple times.
Think, for a moment, about words that you spoke to someone in anger. How many times had you thought that before you actually said it? Then, in a moment of rage and slightly out of control (or perhaps in control but no caring about the consequences) you actually said what you’ve been thinking for a while. You voiced how you truly felt. Maybe it wasn’t the whole picture. But it started with thoughts that you have mulled over.
Consider the effect of thinking “I can’t breathe”, with all the nuances that it carries. Perhaps one of those nuances is that the system is unjust and doesn’t allow you to speak your mind.
If you regularly think “the system is unjust”, are you motivated to change it? Or do you get caught in a feeling of hopelessness? Notice the difference between thinking “I can participate in changing this unjust system” versus thinking “the system is unjust”.
Have you noticed how all your thoughts influence your emotions and your words? If your thoughts control your actions, then they have a role to play in creating your future! The action you take has a direct impact on your results.
The power of our emotions when mixed with words.
Our words are so much more powerful when they are spoken with emotion. It doesn’t matter if you are creating and destroying.
Anger at injustice can provide us with the strength and courage to embark on a journey that we might otherwise never take. Unfortunately, anger can also eat us up on the inside if we bottle it up, rather than channelling and releasing it.
Before becoming a bitter person: this was probably an angry person. Over time, the fire of the anger dies down, but the embers continue to burn within. The dissatisfaction and discontent are still there, unresolved. After the explosion of rage burnt out, bitter ashes and disillusion are left.
When we start a journey to transform our community, we may embark on it out of anger and frustration at the current situation. It is terrific to shout out to the world:
This is wrong! Wrongs must be righted!
But at some moment, love and compassion for our community need to replace that anger against the aggressors as the driving force of change. When we fail to recognise that our passion is driven by love and stay only in the rage, we miss an opportunity to grown in greater love and compassion.
Revolutions begin in angry protest and perhaps even rioting but have to end in love and compassion to build!
Man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.
Martin Luther King, Jr.
Make sure your thoughts, emotions & words serve your goals.
I love that injustice has awoken people to stand up and make a difference in their worlds. But if I could ask just one thing, it would be this:
Choose your words carefully, especially those spoken with emotion.
I want to hear the masses chanting:
Justice for George!
We can do it!
United we stand.
Black lives matter!
Fighting for justice!
We stand for justice.
We demand justice!
My voice matters!
I’m sure you could make a better list of powerful statements that could create change, without cursing your body or those supporting you.
And when we are done tearing down what no longer serves us, let’s build communities of compassion, love and kindness. Communities that are safe for our children, and that allow us to learn what it means to love our neighbour as ourselves.
If I look to Proverbs for Wisdom, these are but a few of the reminders about the power of our thoughts, emotions and words:
The tongue of the wise brings healing.
As a man thinks, so is he.
Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.
My son, pay attention to what I say; turn your ear to my words. Do not let them out of your sight, keep them within your heart; for they are life to those who find them and health to one’s whole body.
A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.