On The Power Of The Word

It cannot be doubted that words have considerable power. Despite the brave statements of children of previous generations that “sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never hurt me,” the more delicate children of the contemporary time demand safe zones where they are free from any sort of hostile and negative language. Indeed, it is the power of the word that has long encouraged people who have a mastery of language to hone their skills in spoken and written language to gain power through a variety of means. The power of the word is at the heart of the power of the law, where written and spoken words carry with them the power of life and death, of defining and defending property and rights, dealt with in courts and congresses. The power of the word is at the heart of religion, with its similar focus in law as well as its interpretation, and the power of clerics whose words both instruct and convict, to say nothing of prophets inspired by God to speak to humanity. The power of the word is also at the heart of journalism, teaching, as well as many of the creative professions like authors and musicians, to speak of our feelings and thoughts, to express ourselves and also to shape the thinking and feeling of others.

Inasmuch as many of us have spent years honing our abilities in wielding the power of the word, it is worthwhile to ponder upon the limits of the power of the word. At its core, the power of the word consists in the power of persuasion. Where the word is not used in order to bolster and support what someone already thinks and believes, the power of the word consists in its ability to provide encouragement for people to grow and change. Sometimes this change is a matter of learning, learning new realities through the acquisition of grammar and vocabulary, learning how to express oneself better and to understand what others are seeking to communicate as well. Frequently also, the power of the word is used to try to shape a more favorable and sympathetic response than would be the case otherwise, as well as to provide justification for why people should or should not do one thing or another.

To the extent that we seek to use the power of the word to change others, though, this depends on whether others are in fact persuadable. The use of certain language can be recognized as a code that talks about a given subject with a given perspective, and where people have become informed about the ways that language has been corrupted and perverted by others to try to spread unwanted and undesirable cultural change, those code words can allow us to recognize an agenda and to harden ourselves against it in proper hostility to it. This suggests that the power of words can be limited if people have gained a reputation for using words in an improper way. Once someone is known as a speaker of forked tongue with an improper agenda, the power of their words is dramatically lessened to the extent that other people are on their guard against whatever that person may say. This is not something that is sufficiently often considered when one is dealing with the power of the word, and that is the power to resist the message delivered when one has feelings of hostility towards the messenger.

Still, even with the limitations that the power of the word has, it is far more enjoyable to seek to develop the power of the word than it is to simply be a potential victim to the power of the word delivered by one’s enemies and those who would wish to exploit or corrupt us. The word and the deed have a complicated relationship that is far from straightforward. To some extent, if we are to create something worthwhile, we must often first conceive of it and have a vision of what does not yet exist but that can, with considerable time and effort, be brought into reality through the cooperation of people who share that vision. The fact that some people lie through promises in the dark does not make all of those who make promises lying seducers, and the fact that some people abuse the power of the word does not make the power of the word without benefit. All forms of power can be used for evil by those of evil character, and no power that can be wielded by flawed human beings is free from some kind of flaw when used in the wrong way by those who have departed from righteousness. Nor are we immune from the need to grow and change, and to the extent that it is impossible to reach us because we have hardened ourselves to outside influence, it is also impossible for us to grow and improve into how we could be. And that would be a great shame, to be so hard as a hazelnut that we are fit only to be trodden over by others who find it impossible to reach us beneath our impervious shell.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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