looking beneath the words


Another one of those phrases we all know, all use so casually- yet don’t seem to apply nearly as broadly as we could be – is that whole ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ thing.
Sure, we’ve all heard it. But do we really live by these words?
I’ve been thinking about this in relation to a thread I wrote on Twitter earlier today, going into some of the reasons why I like hip-hop.
I’ll discuss some of that here, for context- but what I really want to talk about is how to think bigger on that topic.
One of things that held me back from enjoying rap/hip-hop, when I was younger- was the materialism. The violence. The shallow focus on sex, and the objectification that came with it, to me.
When I listen to rap, now- I hear it differently. I take more of a personal meaning from the songs, that may not even be what was intended by the artist.

When I listen to songs like this:

What I’m hearing is an anthem for loving one’s crew, for the excitement that comes with having a group of friends whose strengths perfectly complement my own weaknesses- to whom I am loyal, and with whom I feel like I can conquer the world.

And this song is, at face value, all about sex:

But when I listen to it, I feel alive.

The words, no- they’re not relatable to me.
But that feeling?
That feeling of confidence, of not giving up, of enjoying life
That, I relate to.
We get caught up in the labels of things- this, we all know.
But do we believe it? Do we live that belief?
Words are deceptive. The same word, used even by the same person, employing a different tone, in two different contexts- can mean two utterly different things.
“oh, you’re so smart!”
is a nice compliment.
“oh, you’re soooo smart”
is definitely not a compliment.
I am coming to believe, more and more- that things like tone, and context – are far more crucial aspects of communication, than the actual words we speak are.
No matter what the words being spoken- there is a person beneath them – who said them, for a reason.
Humans as Mad Libs. I feel like maybe when we aren’t learning something from a story, song, sentence etc- we are missing the book, for the cover.
Missing meaning. Hearing only the words being spoken.



Politics is a really good example of how this affects our daily lives.
The current political climate in the US is incredibly bipartisan. I feel like has been fueled, to a degree- by the isolation conditions. It becomes harder to hear the meaning beneath the words of others, when we only hear the words, without seeing the people speaking them, face to face.
Isolation is anathema to empathy.
This TED talk captures my current political leanings, pretty perfectly:



His words, his beliefs- they are nuanced.

To hear what those people were really saying, behind the words they used. He heard, and he listened.
Empathy, to me- might simply mean the action of looking beneath the words, beneath the labels – to see the human underneath.



I spent three years living on the street in Los Angeles. I came out of that, changed. This is my story.

Leave a Reply