The Power of Words

Debra - Marstons Mills, Massachusetts
Entered on October 15, 2007

I believe in the power of words. As a voracious reader, I have always been in love with words. Bookstores, with their millions and millions of words, have always been my favorite hangout. I even find books jumping into my shopping cart at the grocery store and the prospect of devouring more words just thrills me!

Words have the power to transcend time and space. They can cheer, persuade, move, anger, frighten, and encourage even after hundreds or thousands of years. Words can retain their power over generations and reach into the hearts and minds of millions more people than the original audience. Although it is said that “Actions speak louder than words,” I can still read the words a person used, even if it is not possible to know how that person acted.

Words, in the hands of a master, can sway an audience, a jury, a mob. As a reader I have been moved to both anguish and joy by the words of an author. Attorneys can argue equally convincingly of a defendant’s guilt or innocence. A group of people can be turned into a angry, hate-filled mob by the rousing words of a speaker. Or they can be persuaded to go home, cool off, and choose compassionate, peaceful methods to express their frustrations and needs.

As a teacher, I see the power of words a hundred times a day. When children are told “You’re smart,” or “You are a kind friend,” that is what they become. When they are told, “This is hard, but you can do it,” they don’t give up. And, sad to say, when children are told, “You aren’t allowed,” “You’re bad,” “This is too hard for you,” they become something else.

Every year I read to my class a book called “Martin’s Big Words.” It tells about how Martin Luther King Jr., as a boy, dreamed of using the big words his father used, words like “justice,” “equality,” “freedom,” “peace.” These are powerful words for 7-year-olds. When we discuss them, though, they readily see how these words can fit and apply to their own lives. Recess, sibling relationships, school bus rides–they all become framed differently in their minds when put in the context of these great new words.

I have posted around my classroom many quotations from sources as varied as Danny Kaye, Indira Ghandi and Kermit the Frog. I am always awed by the way some people can capture a sentiment, a lesson, an admonishment, an emotion in just a few words.

In fact, the only real problem I have ever had with words is that I frequently use too many. I keep talking when I should be quiet, I always have to over-explain my position. When I was in school, I often got essays passed back to me by my teachers with the word “Verbose” scrawled across the top. While I acknowledge this truth about my personal use of words, I seem unable to stop. Even this essay, with a suggested limit of 500 words, is 554 words long.

I must continue to remind myself that sometimes the most profound words are the simplest: “Thank you,” “I’m sorry”, “I love you.”

I believe words are powerful, and we all have a responsibility to choose them and use them with care.