Disclaimer: This post has nothing to do with sports. Rather, it deals with the passing of Linkin Park's Chester Bennington. More though, it addresses how the words we choose when an event like this occurs have a profound impact and can, inadvertently, create toxic situations
As a writer, words are my life. As many of you know, my day job is as a website writer for small businesses across the country. The words that I choose have a real impact on people’s lives. A well-written website can make the difference between the success and failure of a business. More than that, it can have a real impact on the success, or failure, of another person and their family. I don’t take that responsibility lightly. It’s a privilege to be able to do something every day that makes a difference, if only in a small way.
As many more of you know, my side job is as a football writer. Through my writing for NFL Spin Zone and Breaking Football, the words I choose convey a message. That message, I hope, is one of passion. It’s an honor to be able to take something I’ve cared about my whole life — the NFL — and have people care about what I have to say about it. I’m thankful every day for the opportunity to write words about the Miami Dolphins and about the upcoming draft prospects.
Those words, though perhaps not as impactful as the ones I write for my 40-hour-a-week job, can have a real impact as well. Those are the words that I put out there for you all to see. Those are the words that I put on Twitter, and those are the words that can be, potentially, seen by the very people I’m writing about. That’s not a responsibility I take lightly either. Because words matter. What you choose to say about a person can matter more than you will ever know.
Which brings me to the events of today, namely the passing of former Linkin Park singer Chester Bennington, and the larger issue of suicide. And how the words that we choose to put out there can create a stigma about mental health. When we choose to say that suicide is “the cowardly choice”, what are we really saying? What message are we conveying to the world when we choose to send that sentiment out for all to see?
I can tell you from personal experience, it’s a negative one. When someone is going through rough times and is having suicidal thoughts, they remember those words. They remember all the times they saw on Facebook that you called someone weak for taking their own life. They remember when their friends said someone was a coward for not being able to take the pain any longer. They remember, and they shove those negative emotions down. Over and over again they shove. Until they can’t shove any longer. They suppress as long as they can, until they break and make a permanent decision from which there is no coming back.
None of this is to say that those words are the driving force behind the choice to take one’s life, of course. Suicide is far more complex than that. It would be foolish for anyone to say otherwise. But hearing that message over and over again does create a stigma. It does put the idea in someone’s mind that they are somehow lesser for having those thoughts. It introduces the idea that they are somehow weak for seeking out help for those thoughts. And once that seed is planted, it grows like a weed. It shoots up almost immediately and makes it almost impossible to rise above and say “No, I need help and I’m going to get it”.
So, I implore you, the next time this happens — and believe me, it will happen again — take a moment and think. Before you fire off that tweet or post that Facebook status, take a moment to think about the message you’re sending to your friends. Take a moment to think about how you’d feel if someone said that about you. Ponder how the deceased’s loved ones would feel about seeing those words about their family or friend, and how you may be doing nothing more than adding salt to an already agonizing wound. Pause. Think. And please, choose your words wisely.
Welcome! My name is Chris Spooner. I am an overly-passionate Dolphins fan who has many opinions about his team, and the sports landscape as a whole. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I enjoy voicing them.