Victorian-era author Edward George Earle Lytton Bulwer-Lytton, 1st Baron Lytton once wrote, “The pen is mightier than the sword”.
American humorist, philosopher, and author Mark Twain quipped, “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything”.
Among the endless and amusing observations made by Victorian-era poet and playwright Oscar Wilde, so many clever sayings stand out to me. A tortured and wicked soul, I have been drawn to his work most of my life. Perhaps, on some level, I have an ability to relate to some of his pain of which he frequently speaks. His observation, “If you want to tell people the truth, make them laugh, otherwise they’ll kill you” is certainly one that rings clear to me.
These and countless other writers across the centuries – through their experiences they thought important enough to capture in text – remind us all this:
Spoken, written, and implied words have unimaginable and equal ability to enliven and to destroy.
I’ll use a personal example of how something as simple as a spoken word can escalate based upon simple perception.
Recently, my husband had surgery and was unable to drive. That positioned me as chauffeur to us both and for everywhere we needed to be. Doctor’s appointments, grocery store runs, weekend evenings out found me behind the wheel.
The really bad part about that is I have absolutely no sense of direction. Though not necessarily brand new to the area, I have found it more difficult than I had anticipated to get my bearings and I depend largely on my husband as my modified GPS to direct me to any given destination.
That’s my cross to bear. His is that he is a lousy GPS. Having lived here for better than 20 years and knowing the area well, he thinks little about conveying turn by turn to someone completely lost. He’s used to just driving to where he knows he’s going.
One day during one of our trips to the physical therapist – both of us raw from pushing our patience during his lengthy healing – I was driving along and he instructed me to get in the turn lane. We were going to turn left in one of the two designated lanes.
As we approached the lanes, he then said, “Go straight”, so at last minute, I swung the vehicle into the far right lane going directly forward.
And he exploded at me, screeching that he told me to turn. In response, I dissolved into tears, screaming back that he told me to go straight.
By definition, a turn on a curve is polar antonym of straight. You don’t go straight to turn a corner.
It seems so stupidly apparent to me.
He saw it differently. And his direction was completely rational to him.
That disagreement landed us in separate rooms for days until we cooled off and both acknowledged that we need to work on our communications when it comes to giving directions.
I am thankful to say that – on every other plane – he and I communicate flawlessly through humor, day to day routine, and true romance. I adore him with all my being.
But, goddammit, that incident pissed me off.
I love that he tells me that I am one of the most intelligent people that he’s ever met in his life. He mentions frequently how my pontificating about every subject under the sun has changed his way of absorbing and fielding what he reads, what he hears, how he speaks, and how it all applies to the world around him.
Through my prompting and challenging everything he’s ever known and said, I have broadened his mind and his vocabulary. He understands now why it matters.
A prime example he has given on multiple occasions is my ability to educate by description and with purpose; that I do not yell, bark, shame, or command. Yet, I express observations in order to change behavior in a way that achieves desired results through respect and understanding.
I pride myself on that. If any of our deliberations have power to plant a seed of contemplation into just one person’s mind, this planet may be on its way to becoming a beautiful garden.
That is the immeasurable power of words when they are used with bold intention. This is why they matter.
World Leaders Are Held To A Higher Standard – Or Are They?
At risk of kicking a hornets’ nest, I’ll also use an opposing example; one of many as have been set forth by our current president, Donald Trump.
I find it difficult to describe how I feel about the news media’s daily attacks on everything that our president says and does. Don’t get me wrong – I actually agree with them and I marvel in the colorful and clever adjectives that the journalists and opinionists conjure up.
The president has ostensibly opened his own door to the endless berating and punishing prompted by his ridiculous Twittering, his public scolding of reporters, his documented inconsistencies, and his outright lack of understanding of the politics and people around him.
He has positioned himself as a fool, unapologetically so, but ultimately it is he – and only he – who is responsible for his words and reactions.
That burden lies with each and every one of us.
He’s no exception, however. Every politician at some point in their career has faced the public with egg on their face, placed there by their own rhetoric.
A very sensitive and arguable topic that I have seen addressed – a comment once made on social media about a very well-known historical leader and politician – was a viewpoint indicating how great a leader was Hitler.
Now, before you go diving for the torches and pitchforks, think about that for just one moment. Does that statement anger you? Or do you sit back in your seat, examine those words, apply rational thought, and then seriously consider that he very well may have been?
Of course he was and I’ll tell you why.
Let’s begin first at the end and work our way back. It is an indisputable truth that Hitler’s actions were unforgivable, unimaginable, and inconceivable. He was the most notorious murderer, criminal, scoundrel of the 20th century, hands down. The man was the definition of evil as close as we can find it.
But it cannot be denied that he was an exceptional leader NOT based upon the outcome of his actions, but that he achieved them in the first place – why?
Because he was followed, hailed, and admired by millions of disciples, believers, and soldiers.
An intelligent, cultured, driven, educated, and disciplined individual, he applied his extreme intellect to cajoling and manipulating the masses so much so that he convinced them of his ability to bring his anticipated realm to perfection. And they all bought it hook, line, and sinker.
He told people EXACTLY what they wanted to hear. And they believed him.
Does that make it right? Absolutely not…but, unfortunately, it makes it a fact of history.
Throughout that same history, a myriad of examples can be given of civilizations brought to their knees, mass murders, absolute defiance, civil disobedience, and corruption promulgated by leaders and driven by their spoken and written words.
A ray of sunshine is that just as many arguments can be made in favor of those successful and positive leaders who moved mountains, changed lives, and built cities with their words. One of my favorite examples of that is Martin Luther King, Jr.’s speech “I Have a Dream”. It brings me to tears each time I hear him utter those poignant words.
What You Say And HOW You Say It
“Turning dog shit into diamonds” – that is one of my favorite lines by Christopher Walken’s mobster character in the 1997 movie “Suicide Kings”.
It’s a suave, sexy, striking comment. Watch the movie and you’ll perk up when it’s spoken. You’ll rewind the movie just to make sure that you heard what you thought you heard. Essentially, what Walken in his character was expressing, was that the most persuasive individual can take the most dire scenario and turn it into the most enjoyable of occasions.
They could easily achieve this – as could anyone – simply by calculating how creative is their description, how enticing are those words, and knowing exactly whom is the audience they are addressing.
Our ears and eyes are sensitive instruments. They are attracted and soothed by nice, comforting, and pleasant sounds and sights. For purposes of this discussion, we’ll assume that those are spoken and written words.
Alternatively, they are also repulsed, incited, and infuriated by bad and profane content.
That’s human nature.
“One is apt to attract more bees with honey than with vinegar”.
In other words, posing and accepting open communication in any situation will gain more attention and result than will spouting anger, accusations, and name-calling.
Think about a time when you had to deal with a customer service representative and you didn’t feel as though your situation was receiving the attention or result that you were hoping for.
We’ve all been in that spot. I am just as guilty for losing my temper with someone I did not perceive as being competent to handle the given situation.
As a result, it got nowhere, just like I knew it wouldn’t.
Bottom line is – all of us as humans are more amenable to being worked with as opposed to being worked against and words are the driving force in getting us to a productive result.
I’ve always viewed profane responses as the refuge of the weak-minded. I do, however, believe that an occasional “f-er” provided precisely at the right moment to express emphasis is a very powerful tool. There’s the dog shit.
The irony of this is, that in most cases, words already spoken are those that have brought on the conflict now requiring diffusing.
We aren’t required to modify who we are in order to all live in peace with one another. Perception belongs to us all, as does our ability to rationalize situations and apply our words appropriately.
We all have infinite ability to turn that dog shit into diamonds, should we choose to do so.
Draw the parallels: Dog shit smells and people will avoid stepping into it…it embeds into the bottom on their shoes and it is drug into the house and spread throughout every room.
Diamonds are breathtaking, of great value, in high demand, and adorn wherever they are worn.
With spoken and written words, we can stink or we can beautify.