There are certain persons in our world who have recently been trying to denigrate the importance of words in our world. “Words are fine,” they say, “but what really matters is action.” In the rhetoric against the power of words, this this code that we use to communicate with one another becomes “just words,” as if words are things of small importance.
I have always liked what a favorite philosopher of mine once said about words…
I love words. I thank you for hearing my words. I want to tell you something about words that I uh, I think is important. I love..as I say, they’re my work, they’re my play, they’re my passion. Words are all we have really.
We have thoughts, but thoughts are fluid. You know, [humming]. And, then we assign a word to a thought, [clicks tongue]. And we’re stuck with that word for that thought. So be careful with words. I like to think, yeah, the same words that hurt can heal. It’s a matter of how you pick them.
Carlin, of course, said these words as a lead in to his famous monologue, the Seven Dirty Words, which used the power of profanity to make a point about the power of words. And Carlin was right in recognizing that if some words can be so powerful, so hated, so full of venom that they can’t be used on television, then others words must have the power to heal, some words have the power to restore, some words have the power to bring change.
Yes, actions are important, and certainly words and actions must be coherent with one another. The critics of rhetorical business certainly have the right and obligation to question the coherence of one’s words with one’s actions, and/or to evaluate whether the rhetoric can actually be carried out, or if it is simply methane exiting from the rear of a gifted speaker. Yet, the problem is not the words, for words have amazing power when assembled in particular ways to mold the hearts and minds of a group of individuals into a synergistic force that can be used for both good and evil. One can never “write off” the power of words. One can only deconstruct them and call into question the underlying codes and thoughts that undergird them.
There is a difference between poetry and a technical manual. Both use words. Both communicate something about a particular subject. However, all the technical writer can do is impart information. The poet makes us laugh, cry, swoon, curse, and think. The poet plays with our hearts, calling us to things that we know deeply inside our souls. The poet grabs us in our guts and leads us to do and say things that we never saw possible.
Words are all we have really. Without them, we are simply a bunch of fairly useless mammals who can barely take care of ourselves. Words are the music that make us who we are, and without them, we are lost.