The Forensic Linguistic Conference in Porto was fantastic and I have been reminded again that the words we speak every day are so important indeed. Also, the proposal for my Masters project is due tomorrow. It seems I changed, rewrote, reviewed, added and edited this thing about a million times and I cannot wait to send it tomorrow to have it off my plate.
I had a recurring thought that popped up at the conference that I will address. There were some excellent presentations of projects, dissertations and research and it mattered so much how the words presenters used shaped their attitudes and perceptions. And mine. It made me realize that using big, fancy words can sometimes confuse more than explain, especially whenever the presenter did not know what they were even talking about. The review and comments some presenters received were hurtful, created pain, sadness but also joy and happiness. I can make the presenter feel good or bad. I can destroy him completely, too. Or like in the recent Michelle Carter case, make people kill themselves via text messages by encouraging suicide. All with one simple things. Words. Or is it rather the case that words alone cannot kill?
To get back to my initial thought from the conference: I am analyzing suicide notes for addressivity and am wondering if words can kill, which words can be used to save a person’s life? There is one particular suicide I tried to prevent when I was a police officer. I spoke for approximately two hours to a suicidal woman who stood on her balcony on the 9th floor of an apartment building. Two hours! I thought about grabbing her and pulling her back to change her mind and make her live but there was no way I could get close enough. After a while she looked at me and thanked me for “the nice talk” but she “has to do this now and I need to stop manipulating her by trying to change her plan”. And she jumped. My police chief told me to never look into the eyes of a person who commits suicide in front of me “because it is the eyes you will remember”. Also, to avoid looking at the person too closely after. Well, as a police officer, one really doesn’t have the option. I looked. And her eyes are still with me to this day re-appearing in my dreams here and there. I never dealt with this problem properly until a couple of months ago. Could I have used different words and saved her?
In my professional life I dealt with way too many suicides. I know that it is always a pressure on me as well as on the families and friends of the suicidal person. In the case of my “balcony woman” I said everything I could think of, offered help, understanding, advice, support and maybe even love. “Life is worth living,” I said. I remember the words clearly. She looked at me and cried. My words just weren’t enough. Would she still be alive if a different police officer would have dealt with her? Coulda, woulda, shoulda! I will never find out regardless.
She jumped from a balcony on the 9th floor. Not a beautiful picture as you can imagine and now the questions: “Who is responsible? Is nobody responsible but the person herself? Do words really matter that much after all? Can words kill or can’t they? Can I simply resist or act differently even though words create and influence certain situations? Would the situation have been different if the “balcony woman” would have realized that I did not try to manipulate her but just save her life?
I think that words alone do not have the power to kill. There is always more involved. It always makes me wonder what a person thinks just before they commit suicide. How hopeless, sad, angry, depressed or whatever else must they be to finally decide to take their own life? The “balcony woman” clearly did not see a different, new way. She decided that “it is time”. Later in a different police report I found out that her boyfriend left a couple of days before her suicide and sent her a goodbye-letter.