Weapon of choice. (Alternative Voices).
When faced with the strength of physical weapons, it can be hard to see what advantage something as ephemeral and insubstantial as words can hold. When soldiers go to war, they don't fight with words but with guns, and the masses of dead are a silent testimonial to the impact of bullets. However, before leaving war to its shallow grave, consider its causes. Soldiers don't leave hearth and home to march, fight, and die for the thrill of the experience. In looking for the reasons, the power of words reveals itself.
In the American Revolution, the beautiful language of Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence gave rebels a cause. In the Texas War of Independence, only the phrase "Remember the Alamo" was needed to remind the embattled what they were fighting for. It can be argued that it isn't the words but the events behind them that hold true power. However, whatever the events, words are needed to immortalize them. Weapons alone cannot tell what they are raised against. Words are needed to turn events into the ideas and ideals for which we fight. It is words that rouse a hundred swords in battle or slide them bloodlessly back into their scabbards.
Although words have much influence over war and death, the full extent of their power cannot be described without turning to the other side of the spectrum: life. While words begin wars, they also end them. Words can give hope to an embattled people instead of taking it away--something a mere weapon can never accomplish. Words of peace can start healing the seemingly irrevocable damage of war and give people back their ability to dream. The ability to have a conversation about a topic as simple as the weather gives more proof that a war has ended than any physical laying down of arms. It is when the words peace, quiet, and home are safe again that people begin to live once more, rid of the last shadows of destruction.
Beyond the arena of war and peace, words hold an even greater influence over simple but vital aspects of ordinary life. Anyone who has heard a heartfelt expression of love, an inspiring speech of beliefs, a quiet prayer to higher powers, or even a cheerful song to pass the time can testify to the effect of words.
A marriage, for example, comes together when two people express their love through words and stay together through words of friendship and discussions of problems. What words are spoken aren't as important as the fact that they are indeed spoken, for the simple endearments a couple speaks hold no less power than the words of the elaborate love poem that first painted their feelings.
For hundreds of years, the human race has been praying to gods, and religious scriptures have changed history. For many people around the globe, the words of the Bible, Torah, Quran, and other religious texts have a direct impact on life. Sacred words can take on meanings far beyond their definitions, and they instruct believers on how to live from the moment of birth to their last breath. Words of religious faith are used to justify and explain many human actions. Crusades and jihads are two obvious examples. They are, after all, started by nothing more than a collection of words viewed as sacred and unquestionable, yet they can result in the deaths of thousands of people. On a simpler level, a sermon can move a drunkard to end damaging behavior or a sluggard to perform useful work.
Prayer is a more basic religious use of words--expressing hopes and fears to a higher power and giving people an outlet for their most private thoughts. Prayers may or may not accomplish anything directly, but their words still have the ability to sustain people through the most difficult hardships. By putting personal troubles into language, people can remove some of their own burden and place it on what they see as stronger shoulders. Even a word as simple as amen can evoke a feeling of peace to an unhappy heart because it takes the problem unto itself.
Finally, what is most amazing and awe-inspiring about words is that not only can they influence so much of life but their influence can spread from people a thousand miles away or a thousand years ago. Distance is no barrier to words because they can move around the globe through letters, phone calls, or even television. People who have never stood on the same continent can easily affect each other through their speech and writing. Famous or not, words can also be bequeathed to later generations to influence those who come after. Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech, the poems of Alfred Lord Tennyson, and the essays of John Locke all continue to "live" because their words can be passed on. Even when civilizations crumble, their legacy can be preserved in their writings. Words influence people no matter where or when they live.
Words are the earth in which ideas and dreams grow. And yet, like the ground upon which we stand, they are too often overlooked. They shouldn't be pushed aside when we rush toward physical symbols of power. They deserve to be nurtured and cherished like the treasures they are. Perhaps, in time, people will learn to recognize the power and influence of words, and they will become the only weapon humanity ever needs.
Yafang Deng is now an eighteen year old from Westerville, Ohio. This essay received honorable mention in the thirteen-to-seventeen-year-old age category of the 2001 Humanist Essay Contest for Young Women and Men of North America.
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|Title Annotation:||the efficacy of words|
|Article Type:||Brief Article|
|Date:||Jul 1, 2002|
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