Democratically Yours: Words Mean Things

We are in the season of Thanksgiving, and the holidays are on the horizon, but for me, it is hard to feel a sense of gratitude when the world seems out of sync.

The American gun violence sickness continues across the country, we have political instability in the United States, war in Ukraine and Russia, war in the Middle East between Israel and Hamas, inflation, student loan repayments, and an uncertain winter in the age of climate change. It all makes it very hard to settle into gratefulness.

Over the past few months, I have watched my social media timelines divulge into cesspools of toxicity. We seem to have forgotten our collective humanity, so I am dedicating this column to the adage that “words mean things.”
A month into the Israel-Hamas War, I witnessed two very close friends engage in a debate about the conflict where they hurled words, concepts and accusations at one another with a vengeance that was uncharacteristic of their personalities.

These friends, solidly in the same political philosophy, have marched with one another for justice, jobs, and social and political rights and found themselves at an impasse in the comment section of social media.

I asked myself if they would say these things in the same room face to face. I don’t think they would have because, in intense moments of debate, you must recognize their humanity when sitting across from another person. I observed the debate from the sidelines and took a moment to reflect on how I felt and posted the following status to Facebook:

“The internet, for all of its wonder and connection, is toxic. We’ve collectively forgotten that words mean things. There are actual definitions and contexts. Typing on screens allows us to say things we would NEVER say if the person were standing before us. Keyboard warriors of all varieties, take a moment, log out and go touch some grass.”

The adage “words mean things” encapsulates the powerful impact of language and communication. It highlights the significance of carefully choosing and using words due to their inherent ability to convey meaning, evoke emotions and shape perceptions. Internet discourse elevates the most extreme voices at both ends of the political pendulum, and that reality is unhealthy.

Days after the horrific terrorist attack in Israel, six-year-old Palestinian-American Wadea Al Fayoume was horrifically murdered along with his mother because they were Muslim. The political rhetoric in the aftermath of the Hamas terrorist attacks was so atomic that a child was killed in Illinois, thousands of miles away from conflict and war. Words mean things. Wadea should be alive today.

Around the same time, I watched with amusement and concern when the U.S. House of Representatives went Speakerless for nearly a month. The political circus created by the Grand Old Party was fueled by extreme rhetoric and chaos, leaving most of us wondering why our government failed to meet its most basic obligations.

It’s why we also live with the constant threat of a government shutdown, where millions of lives and livelihoods hang in the balance. House Democrats and the U.S. Senate seem prepared to keep the government open and send critical aid to Ukraine, Israel, Taiwan, and the U.S. border, but a select group of House Republicans seems steadfast in maintaining a manufactured crisis.

Words serve as vessels of expression, carrying the weight of our intentions, thoughts and beliefs. When we hide behind a keyboard, we don’t often present our true intentions, thoughts, or opinions, but instead, we participate in a game of despair and disunity. We are failing to see our collective humanity.

The precision, tone, and context in which words are employed can significantly alter their interpretation and influence. As such, the choice of words holds immense power, capable of fostering understanding, inciting change or causing misunderstanding and conflict.

I am solidly aligned with the political left. Still, in recent months, I have observed intense debates on every topic, from climate change to the economy, and every time I see or engage in internet dialog, I tell myself that this conservation would be better served in person unless you are attending political rallies hosted by former President Donald Trump. It is clear that some of his followers enjoy the entertainment value.

Still, other followers of the former president believe they are answering a call for something far more sinister and darker. We have to listen to what Trump says and think that if he is ever returned to power, he will do exactly what he says — because again, words mean things.

In the spirit of finding gratitude and Thanksgiving, I encourage us all to practice more grace, particularly on the internet. I encourage us all to engage more with one another in the community, real life, outside and touching the grass.

Words mean things, underscoring our responsibility to use language thoughtfully. We must understand that how we articulate our ideas can profoundly affect how others receive and understand them, which includes people who are simply observing your exchanges while scrolling. May we all be more intentional with how we communicate with one another and recognize that words mean things.

Johnny V. Boykins is a Democratic strategist and organizer in Pinellas County, a husband, bow tie aficionado, amateur chef, and U.S. Coast Guard veteran. He also serves as a board member of the Pinellas Democratic Party. Learn more at

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