Enrich the meaning of words. | Julie Waller


I wonder how many of you watched the inauguration of Joe Biden, and in particular the reciting of the poem The Hill We Climb by Amanda Gorman? The impact she had was tremendous and she reminded me of why I love my job, working with young people, sharing in their struggles as they navigate the challenges of life, and just how much they ‘give back’ – in creativity, ingenuity and passion.

Power of words

“The Hill We Climb” held a particular role on that day – “I really wanted to use my words to be a point of unity and collaboration and togetherness”, the BBC quote Amanda as saying. The response certainly confirmed that her words had been heard. But interviews with Amanda show the depth of her craft, she uses words to paint a picture, present a song, almost a manifesto of how she sees the world. Her words were insightful and hopeful, and many of us hope that she will inspire all young writers to pick up a pen and just write!
Journaling has long been held as a therapeutic exercise. For younger children, it may simply be a private diary. The key to journals and diaries is that parents and other family members must respect the privacy – it is the one place where the true voice can be expressed, without the niceties and social mores, without the concern that people will take offence. We need to ensure that we let our children know that this writing is personal and privacy will be respected.

For some, the writing takes form and function – and they gradually build courage to share their voice, in the form of poems, prose or stories. Then we need a good listening ear, and an openness to ‘really hear’. We might even encourage our children to consider entering competitions, an external validation can be very exhilarating and of course helps young people to learn to deal with disappointment and constructive criticism.
Reciting poetry for Amanda, was the impetus for her to overcome her speech impediment.
“It’s made me the performer that I am and the storyteller that I strive to be,“ she said in a recent interview with the Los Angeles Times.

“When you have to teach yourself how to say sounds [and] be highly concerned about pronunciation, it gives you a certain awareness of sonics, of the auditory experience.”
Some readers may be familiar with film the The Kings Speech – bringing rhythm and pace to the spoken word somehow bypasses the challenges in everyday conversations and I was particularly struck by the delivery of Amanda’s poem, she used tone, pace and hand movements to echo and enrich the meaning of her words. When our children choose to read aloud their own work, we can gently encourage this development of their craft, maybe by showing them clips on You Tube of national and international story and poetry competitions.

Parents are perhaps the first people to read to children. The bedtime story is not just about reading and hearing words – it is an opportunity for deep connection, a bond that children rarely forget. It is an almost timeless moment when we set aside the chores of the day, snuggle up beside them and are really present. In the early years the toddlers are after repetition and we can shift our own focus from the reading itself to watching the responses of our child as they delight in the pictures as though they have never seen them before, and squeal and join in as they learn the lines and repeat “we’re going on a bear hunt”, for example….

I witnessed a wonderful Christmas tradition last December in one household. A pretty box is placed by the fireside on December 1st and it contains 24 of the child’s own books wrapped in Christmas paper disguising themselves. Each day the child opens a book and is reminded and drawn again to the book that has probably been sitting on the shelf all year, read once or even not at all, but here in the advent season it was a gentle reminder of the good things we have, and how reading is such a joy.

There is however, something very different from reading the words of others and writing them down for ourselves. In writing poetry and stories there is a complexity that always amazes me and I cannot quite articulate it, but for me it is a reminder of that constant tension between being “me” and “me in society”. Regular readers will know I am deeply influenced by evolutionary psychology and the uniqueness of each individual, and my work on mental wealth usually entails helping people to really explore this uniqueness and how to own it. Encouraging us all to write in some way, privately or to be shared is an incredibly healing process.

I am often in the privileged position of listening to young people’s stories and poems. They transport me to a different place in their world and allow me to get a glimpse of their felt experience. I never tire of hearing their words, noticing the way in which they recite or read, feeling gratitude that they have invited me into this space. I have particularly fond memories of our daughter writing “The Waller Weekly News” around age 7 or 8 – she would set it out in newspaper style and pick out key events of the week. This expression of her experience of our lives together was priceless.

Writing is so good for us adults too. I am aware of groups for adults to get together here on Mallorca and share their writing but are there any teenage or children’s groups? Do let us know so that we can share the information. Or is anyone out there willing to sponsor a writing competition? Or to mentor budding authors and poets? Do write to us and let’s see if we can harness the healing power of words together.