Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Power and Privilege of Words


I've been thinking a lot about words lately and the mystery of them. 

Both the spoken word and the written word have always intrigued me. 

I still stand in awe of the way a young child learns to speak the language of his or her parents.  The way that language just seems to be absorbed as if by osmosis, the way one wondrous day a word comes forth, and then another and another, finally to be followed by a sentence and before long a conversation.

The written word holds no less intrigue for me.  In fact, they may even hold more. I never cease to be amazed at  how these symbols we call letters are put together to form a word and how those words are put together to form a sentence and those sentences form a paragraph and those paragraphs form an article, a blog post, a story, or a book.

But perhaps my greatest surprise is the power that words hold and the effect they can have on others and where that leaves me as a writer.  This realization of the power that words hold is simultaneously both awesome and frightening to me.

Words have the power to uplift, encourage and heal.  They also have the power to tear down, discourage and wound.  They hold the actual power of speaking life or death to others.

I had two teachers in school whose words still ring in my ears and so perfectly illustrate this point. 

The first spoke death to me. I still vividly remember both the incident and the words as if they happened just yesterday.  I was a small grammar school student who had worked diligently on an art assignment the teacher had given us. When I was sure that it beautifully conveyed on paper the image I saw in my head, I proudly handed in my  work.  A day or two later, the teacher (whose name I don't even remember) handed back my art work with a Big Fat Red F marked across the page while she boldly proclaimed to me (and the rest of the class) "YOU have NO artistic talent whatsoever!" To this day, I've never picked up a paintbrush (other than the ones I paint beautiful rooms with!) again.

The other spoke life to me.  Miss Vella (whose name I do remember) told me regularly that I had talent, that my writing was beautiful and that she had no doubt that one day I would be a published author. I credit Ms. Vella, my high school teacher, with my love of language, love of words and the fact that I am able to string a word or two together today to convey a thought or an idea. 

Now the point here (in case you're missing it) is not whether I have even a smidgen of undiscovered or underdeveloped artistic talent in me, or even whether or not I'll ever find myself on the New York Times Best Seller List.

No, the point here is that words hold power.  And that consequently, as someone who holds words in both her heart and fingers, I am given the privilege and the responsibility to use them in a way to speak life to those who read them. 

And what an awesome privilege that is - to have the opportunity to speak life and birth greatness in others.  Not an art that I've perfected yet, but  certainly an ideal I aspire to. 

And I hope I get it right, at least some of the time.