Do words have power?

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Words are essential for our day-to-day communication, especially if that communication is, of course, verbal. The power of the word is, in fact, indisputable. A word can be easily memorised and referred to in various life occasions.

A word has the power to describe reality in all its complexities. When used in a figure of speech a word can even provide a scenario when a problem is not merely recognised as such but also can be tackled effectively depending on the skillful use of words.

Several writers have commented on the power of words. Today I just want to share with you the following fifteen authors. The great American poet, Emily Dickinson, said: “A word is dead when it is said some say. I say it just begins to live that day.” How right you are Emily! How many words do we still keep mentioning just because there was the day in which they were used for the first time! Then, the 13th-century Persian Sunni Muslim poet, jurist, Islamic scholar, theologian, and Sufi mystic, Jalaluddin Rumi, observed: “Raise your words, not voice. It is rain that grows flowers, not thunder.” Yes Rumi but it depends which kind of words are employed. Imagine if the words utilised are full of hatred. Don’t you think that the supposed flowers are turned into a bunch of thorns?

For the French writer, Alexander Dumas, “all human wisdom is contained in these two words – wait and hope.” Thank God then that words contain wisdom too and not just folly! I find what the English poet and playwright, John Dryden, said about this topic really interesting: “Words are but pictures of our thoughts.” The famous Austrian-British philosopher who worked primarily in logic, the philosophy of mathematics, the philosophy of mind, and the philosophy of language, Ludwig Wittgenstein, noted that “a new word is like a fresh seed sown on the ground of the discussion”. How many discussions have been going on in our newspapers and making headlines just because of a word? Obviously, that word which was used unwisely.

On the other hand, particularly on hot issues, certain words can be extremely polemical and, if taken into extreme, can become dangerous too. That is what May Sarton, the American poet, novelist and memoirist, said: “The more articulate one is, the more dangerous words become”. And, if there is so much stress on the articulation of words another risk is laid in store, the misuse of words. Thus, the acclaimed English philosopher and prominent classical liberal political theorist of the Victorian era, Herbert Spencer, said: “How often misused words generate misleading thoughts.” Yes dear Herbert! That is exactly the case! And that is why many centuries before you, that classic author of the Iliad and the Odyssey, Homer, voiced his concern that while some words are full of value others are definitely empty and worthless. “Words empty as the wind are best left unsaid.”

But even if used nicely, words have a limit. Otherwise they become a terrible nuisance! Anne Bradstreet, certainly the most prominent of early English poets of North America, hit the nail on its head when she wrote: “Sweet words are like honey, a little may refresh but too much gluts the stomach.” Her reflection on appropriate use of words makes more sense when one considers what the Iranian-born French graphic novelist, cartoonist, illustrator, film director, and children’s book author, Marjane Satrapi, said: “All big changes of the world come from words.”

I would have liked to share with you the remaining five quotes. Unfortunately, my word limit has expired. Nevertheless, let us not forget that once they are printed, words keep on existing because they have a life of their own. Since words are potent weapons for good and bad causes, it is essentially important that one uses them responsibly.
For that matter, let the Letter of James remind us of this never-ending lesson. “So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits. How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! 6 And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell.” (James 3:5-6).

Lord, help me use my mouth to utter blessings and never curses on anyone. Ammen.

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