The power of words is undeniable. But words don’t always connote power; sometimes they demonstrate a lack thereof.
The idea that words might can mean everything or nothing was recently demonstrated in an intriguing panel from the Boku no Hero Academia manga. Michelle of Inside the Mind of a Quiet Girl sent it to me along with some information about the scene. I’ve only been keeping up with the anime series, so I’ll try to put it in context as accurately as I’m able.
Deku has recently met a child who is quite the opposite of him. The boy hates heroes and he hates quirks, because his hero parents were killed in the line of duty when he was very young. Deku didn’t know how to respond to the child (the identity of whom is a spoiler – one that was spared me and which I’ll spare you as well), and asked Todoroki about it. The panel below shows his response.
According to Todoroki, words don’t mean a whole lot. Even though Deku knows a bit about the kid’s background, he doesn’t know him intimately, and Todoroki advises Deku that if he tries to comfort the boy, he’ll likely just succeed in annoying him. The communication he intends to get across might do the opposite (as our communicate is often wont to do). I’ve been very aware of this in my own life lately. Someone close to me recently lost a friend to suicide, and she was frustrated that those close to her gave words of comfort that were at best trite, making her feel bitter and even more alone instead of consoling her.
But Todoroki doesn’t stop there – he turns the idea around on the receiver. Todoroki claims that if words were enough to change someone, he must not have been that heavily affected in the first place. In other words, if Deku succeeded in comforting the boy, that child probably didn’t really need comforting anyway. To an extent, that rings true as well, especially if the person feels better with words that aren’t especially sincere or given out of deep knowledge of the situation. For instance, if my friend has been comforted through banal platitudes, it might demonstrate that she didn’t feel that profound a loss at all.
And then Todoroki closes with an important point, a familiar one: “…words are always accompanied by deeds.” That quote brings to mind these words from I John 3:18:
Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth.
I don’t think it’s hard to understand that as with faith (James 2:14-26), words without deeds don’t mean much. It’s the same idea that skeptics of prayer carry with them when they bitterly criticize those who post “Pray for _________” whenever a tragedy happens, angry that these purveyors of “just pray” memes and images are finding comfort in peaceful words rather than muddying themselves in the real work of helping people in need during a tragedy. And for sure, those things are true – words, faith, prayer – none of these things replace action.
But what Todoroki maybe misses here, and what critics may as well, is that sometimes words are action. While words loosely given without any heart are often worse than none at all, genuine love expressed through words can help a person through tough times. Words are not excluded from deeds. Todoroki is wrong when he claims that people who are really hurting can’t be moved by words; words are powerful enough that they can put life back into us in the most hopeless of situations or destroy us even if we were feeling great the moment before. I know I could revisit dozens of occasions where people intimate to me have done one or the other.
Everybody is different. Every situation is different. And so, too, should my response be. When I take each person for who he or she is, and each painful experience as something unique and deep and meaningful to that person, I’ll do what I should. I’ll love that person as best I can – in words, in deeds, or both.
Boku no Hero Academia is released in manga format by Viz Media.