The Power of Ideas; Old and New

Stephen - Silverdale, Washington
Entered on March 15, 2008

Listening to the “This I believe” segment, I have found that many of the beliefs of others resonate with mine. But what is my core belief? … It is said that the written word can topple kings, but I choose to believe that at the core it is ideas that hold the power over the sword. I believe in the power of ideas.

While the written word captures ideas in time; it is the reader that brings the words to life and shapes the ideas in their mind. Passing those ideas on at the water cooler; some resonate, some even appear on YouTube. Thousands of years ago ideas passed from generation to generation as oral tradition. How many of today’s ideas carry the echo of ten thousand years?

Shakespeare’s written words shaped the idea of forbidden love in Romeo and Juliet; staged in a city state of Italy’s past. Hundreds of years later Sondheim and Bernstein bring us West Side Story. This new text brings a different view of forbidden love; a 50’s Brooklyn view with new names and a new culture, but an old idea. The world zeitgeist is shaped by the ideas. Ideas repeated in dozens of stories in dozens of cultures in the languages of the people. It is the ideas that repeat not the words.

Ideas will change and grow over generations. Thankfully some decay and wither, but Pandora’s Box never quite closes. Ages old ideas discarded as grotesque are dusted off and sold as tomorrow’s silver bullet. Society repeats yesteryear’s mistakes, and we’re left with more issues to clean up. All ideas do not bring good things to all.

Words for me are a weak a substitute for the ideas trapped in my head. The need to shape words into the image of my ideas is almost painful. The right words can convey my intent; the wrong words can leave my idea locked out of others’ reach. As a reader I try to look beyond words and search for the idea in the writers mind. How it might resonate with my own ideas, and how it compares to the history I don’t want to repeat.

Light as knowledge is a great metaphor for the physicist. Light travels as discrete individual photons. These photons travel in waves that rise and fall, like ideas falling in and out of favor. Left alone the light photon disappears into the cosmos. But shaped with lenses or collected with mirrors the light energy can be harnessed to power a city. Ideas too can be more than their dim beginning. When you offer an idea and it resonates with others, they build your idea into something more than you thought possible. Each person’s innovation amplifies the value of your idea. Innovation as an amplifier transforms nascent thoughts into amazing inventions and projects and changes; even toppling kings.

Now ideas are shared in an instant around the world. Companies bring the ideas of thousands together to solve problems and work through issues; thousands brainstorming together to make the most amazing innovations real.

This I believe: I believe in the power of ideas, some caution in wielding that power, and a thirst for the knowledge to discover the ideas I have yet to understand.