Whitlam Institute

What Matters 2018 Finalists

What Matters 2018 Finalists

2018 What Matters? NSW/ACT Year 11/12 Winner

The Colours of Words



Fort Street High School, Petersham


You are in a room.

I stand before you,

fixed in one position.

In your hands,

you hold a large brush

and a wooden palette

holding squirts of

vibrant colours.

A sudden playfulness tickles your mind.

You sink the brush

into the paint,

raise your arm,

and flick it at me.

My naked skin

begins to be marked with

splatters and spots

of red, yellow, blue...


Within the twenty seconds that you have spent on reading up to this point, your brain has just processed seventy words, transferring them into images, thoughts, and memories. This is the single most fascinating and magical ability that we humans have - the art of language. The words we encounter throughout our lives, both spoken and written, each carry distinctive meanings, connotations, and tones that affect us in one way or another, and add a stroke of colour to who we are as individuals.

However, in today's society, the power of our words is too often overlooked. In our daily lives, we carelessly throw words at each other without considering the destructive impacts that they can have. Every day at school, I hear friends swearing, making offensive remarks at each other, and using demeaning and disparaging words under the excuse of 'banter'. Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter are loaded with hateful comments, cyberbullying, and intolerable jokes that minimise and condone misogyny, racism, rape, ableism, and terrorism. We are blind to the immense degree of influence that our language possesses, particularly in a world where communication has now become faster and wider than ever.

But if we can use words to hate, they can also be used to love. Instead of leaving scars, they can heal scars. A kind greeting on the first day of high school has been my first step to building long-lasting friendships. Compliments from parents and teachers put a proud smile on my face and inspire me to strive for higher goals. When was the last time you received unexpected encouragement and consolation from the lyrics of a song or a passage from a book?

Words matter. To me, and to you. Humanity has been gifted with the beauty of language, and it is time that we appreciate and cherish it. I want a world where children are taught to speak and write with respect, humility, and compassion. I want a world where individuals are defined not by their appearance, race, gender, or religion, but by the dignity of their words. I want a world where words give people the strength to live on, instead of being the blade that tears it apart.

Words should not submerge us in colours.

It should make our own colours shine more.


The colours of your words

trickled down my cheeks

oozed through my throat

splashed on my feet

Engulfing my whole body

Until you couldn't even

really see


Was I smiling?

Or crying?

You turn around

and walk away.

But what you don't know is that

the colours of your words

have left the most vivid stains

on you.

2018 What Matters?Jenna Beck