OK, this is a separate essay. It arose from comments on several of the recent diaries, on some misunderstanding of some things I was trying to say (and since at least two intelligent people misunderstood, I guess I wasn’t clear) but it’s separate. I’m not going to link to anything else, I’d like to start fresh. I’m not GBCWing, so I am here for the long haul and want to make this site as good as it can be. But I do not intend, here, to be ‘calling out’ anyone. I’m not trying to pick a fight, I’m trying to clear something up, and make my position known.
There’s an old saying
Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names can never hurt me
. I think it’s one of the dumbest sayings ever. Of course words can hurt. Or inspire. They can lead people to war, or to peace. Different people are differently vulnerable to words, just as different people are differently vulnerable to a punch in the nose (try punching a karate master in the nose, see what happens). Some of us are strong, some of us are weak, some of us are damaged. But no one is invulnerable.
Who knows this? We all do. But a master of this is the thoroughly despicable Fred Phelps. Do his words hurt? Damn straight. They’re designed to hurt, and they’re designed well. Phelps is a horrible man who thoroughly repels me, but he’s not an idiot.
Everyone against ‘hate speech’ knows this. Why do some words for ethnic groups sound different than others? They all refer to the same groups, don’t they? But words have power.
Words can inspire, as well. here is a comment from a dailyKos diary that moved me to tears.
or this one:
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.”
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
I have a dream today.
Power. More power, perhaps, than any particular action King could have taken
When Abraham Lincoln met Harriet Beecher Stowe, he supposedly said “So this is the little lady who made this big war”. That’s power.
Words can change the world. For good or for ill.
I have heard that Hitler called off a planned invasion of England because of Churchill’s “Fight them on the beaches” speech.
Choice of words matters. It isn’t ‘just semantics’. If it were ‘just semantics’ then none of this would really matter. King’s great speech would have been just as powerful if it went something like:
“Although we aren’t yet completely free, it is nevertheless still important to remember that we can maintain some level of optimism”
I’ve heard that FDR’s great line “This is a day which will live in infamy” was ad-libbed, that his speech writer wrote “this is a very bad day” – well, they mean the same, don’t they?
We can change the world. With words. We can hurt each other. With words. We can use words well, or badly. But we will use them better if we recognize that they are powerful, and that the choice of words is critical.
I think we all know this, I just think we forget, sometimes.