This is the original copy of Jeanelle’s keynote speech given at the Caribbean Sistren Summit on Sunday 25th August 2019 at the Sound Forge (St. James, Trinidad).
“Walk boldly into the unknown.”
There was a time when those words were merely cliché, motivational gab to me and, ten times to one, it was likely that for you when I said it. Because, let’s be honest, we’ve heard it all before. “Be fearless; be brave; be strong; be powerful; there is no time better than the present; you have to go for what you want; everything you need is already inside.” All of it. It is even possible that you’ve been to many women empowerment seminars, hoping to hear something that you don’t already know… something that will shake you to your core and finally push you to becoming the human you’ve always known you can be… but you leave feeling nothing more than, maybe, the general swell in motivation that disappears after a few days. I propose that there is a much bigger issue we’re all facing, one that was first researched and identified over a century ago.
It’s the term psychologists use to describe the phenomenon where the repetition of words or phrases eventually leads to a sense that they have lost their meaning. For a playful demonstration, you can test this concept by repeating a word, say “mother,” up to three times a second for fifteen seconds. You will observe that the word seems to morph into gibberish in your mouth. However, more seriously, this effect is quite present but not necessarily obvious in our daily lives.
Have you ever observed that when you’re around a particular scent, your nose seems to lose its ability to smell it, probably to the displeasure of your occasional house guests? In essence, continued exposure to a stimulus reduces its effectiveness. Similarly, we are less affected by words we hear or see often, as repetition causes them to lose intensity over time. But isn’t that a scary concept? If we aren’t conscious of this effect, is it possible, for example, for a word like “love” to lose its meaning the more we say or hear it? Do we begin to take it for granted? What about hate? What about words wielded in abuse or disempowerment?
When we allow words to lose meaning, any form of associated expression is taking…