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Corgi Lover On November - 4 - 2009

declaration-of-independenceOur words are what define us as a society, in many ways.  Words may be turned into images, such as plays, or movies, or even defined further through actions associated with the words, but it is the words that hold the definition.

Many speak of those who have fought for and defended our freedoms, and the accepted meaning is those who have done so with the force of arms.  But often in the history of man those who have fought most valiantly and won so much for a nation or people have done so with words, either written or verbal.

We need to always realize the power of words, and the use which they can be used and how they can be abused.  When we speak of our beliefs and desires, and of others, we need to always be aware of that and how even just the smallest nuance can carry much weight.

As an American, I will speak of those who have done much for us through their use of words, but there are many examples in other nations and cultures other than ours who speak as loudly and true to them as ours do to us.

One of the first social contracts in America was the Mayflower Compact ( http://avalon.law.yale.edu/17th_century/mayflower.asp ) , which set forth a rule of law and order for the Plymouth Colony, and helped to establish the direction many would follow on in the new world.  If you take it in whole, it is a mere 195 words, and after discarding the standard flourish openings and closings, is but a core of 84 words, pure and simple, stating a purpose.

Another set of those special words is found in Thomas Paine’s pamphlet Common Sense.  ( http://publicliterature.org/books/common_sense/xaa.php )  As we all know, a certain conservative commentator has latched upon Common Sense as his standard, but he has no real concept of what it was about.  Thomas Paine did more to bring about the American Revolution in his words than many of the more highly educated and erudite speakers of his day because he reached the common man, made argument he could understand, and was wise enough to get it printed and distributed widely.

Of a different sort of words which helped for American freedom was that great lover of freedom (of all sorts) and the ladies, Benjamin Franklin.  Through his inquisitiveness, and his knowledge and the respect he gained from others, he influenced with words alone the direction which those, both in America and in Europe, chose to take.  His diplomacy helped to gain us time with the English and the financial and material resources from the French which made possible the winning of American colonies freedom.  This portly non military gentleman was, with his words, worth as much to colonial America as several entire armies.

Of course, there was Thomas Jefferson and the Declaration of Independence ( http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/declaration.html ) , which, in it’s elegance, only took a week to compose but spoke out boldly about where we were and where we wanted to go.

The Constitution of the United States ( http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/constitution_transcript.html ), in it’s relatively brief 4,501 words (excluding signatories) delivered the most compelling set of words establishing a lasting and just elected government whose only equal in longevity is the Magna Charta, and it has been overridden on occasion.

And then there are the great speakers of words, from Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg (http://www.ourdocuments.gov/doc.php?flash=true&doc=36&page=transcript) to the words of what is considered by many to be the greatest speech of the twentieth century, the Dr. Martin Luther King “I have a Dream speech (http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/mlkihaveadream.htm) reach into the various souls of each of us as they call forth our needs and desires for freedom.

Why is this long written piece necessary to those who are reading it?  To remind us all of the strength of words, as strong as force and action, and how, when we present our case to others, we have a responsibility to express clearly what we are presenting in order to achieve our goals.  Too often it is easy to get “carried away” and forget how our words affect others, but that is another, and hopefully shorter, piece.  And although there are those who criticize us for “talking something to death” it is the intelligent use of words that shapes what something is and may become.

29 Responses so far.

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  1. BigDogMom says:

    Monk, this response to your post is a little late, had to step away last night from everything….this is a beautifully written post.

    Words can damage or heal, words can elicit emotional responses, good and bad, they can encourge or they can knock you down. They can lead you to places you have never been, give you joy and laughter or take you down a road a road of fear and hate….and as you said, we must be mindful of how our words affect others…

    Thank you for reminding me…

    • javaz says:

      Good morning BDM!

      I agree.
      It’s a good reminder on choosing our words carefully, especially in the heat of the moment.
      It is very hard to take back words spoken in anger.

  2. whatsthatsound says:

    Allow me to indulge in a little bit of satire, since we’re on the subject of words, and we live in this modern world.
    Awesome article, dude!
    You rock!

  3. AdLib says:


    In this country, it can be far too easy to take freedom of expression and the power of words for granted. Had Fate caused us to be born in North Korea, China, Iran, many parts of the Middle East, etc., where freely speaking or writing certain thoughts and words, we could be imprisoned or even put to death (as Iranian election protesters recently were).

    The pen is indeed mightier than the sword. It is words and ideas that can bring down civilizations (sometimes words like “deregulation” and “corruption”).

    Just imagine if Huffington Post was a government, imagine what living under their rules and system would be like.

    So, as imperfect as our democracy is, we could have done a lot worse.

    • nellie says:

      Well said.

    • KQuark says:

      Aryanna Nation.

      Yet her blog draws thousands of thousands of so called progressives and liberals every day. That’s why the progressives over their that do not question Aryanna but endlessly question Democrats and the president are so hypocritical. To me it’s the same kind of hypocrisy the religious right practices where they don’t follow their principles in basic ways. I’m starting to look at progressive pundits on MSNBC the same way. Sorry GM is a major part of the military industrial complex and their shows make millions for MSNBC. I especially love the article when huffy goes after GE. I just post Keith and Rachel should quit MSNBC based on principle.

      Could you imagine if President Obama tried to muffle descending voices like they do and just deleted any criticism of his administration?

  4. nicole473 says:

    Excellent post, FM. The power of words is really what the world runs on, isn’t it?

    I am wiped out, going to bed. Will be back in the morning to post more.

    Meanwhile, kudos, and peace.

    Night everyone.

  5. kesmarn says:

    A thought provoking article, Monk. When it really comes down to it, didn’t many of us part company with PuffHo over just this very issue: the power of words (and the implied inverse: the power of censorship)?

    Words were used and abused by the trolls (OK, to be honest, occasionally by ‘our side’ too). Words were “disappeared” by the mods, often after a great deal of thought and passion had gone into their use. And words were warped by sensationalist PuffHo headline writers. (Most recent example: the writer who falsely quoted Bill Clinton as saying that he “wished he had been carried out of the White House in a coffin,” when, in fact he said no such thing.)

    Whatever differences there may be among us, I sense that one thing that unites all of us here is our respect for words--their use, their power--and the responsibility that comes with putting our words out into the world.

    • FeloniousMonk says:

      If we want to “market” our progressive ideals, we need to put a little more concern into our use of words. I don’t think there is anything you can say to a troll or a teabagger to win them over, but they are a minority of the right. A lot of middle right and moderate folk will listen a lot more when we stop lumping them all together and acting like they all eat babies. Few of us aren’t guilty of it. We start out saying “the Republicans” and go from there. If you are a Republican, you immediately become defensive.

      I don’t believe in PC. It’s a misnomer at best. Common decency is what everyone deserves. The key phrase in there is about nuances. Just a small nuance can cause someone to turn and walk away from listening to us because it is deemed as insensitive to them.

      • kesmarn says:

        Yes. And it’s so hard to remember that, when emotions run high. That’s when nuance goes out the window (for me, anyway) and I find myself fighting the urge to just go into battle mode.

  6. bitohistory says:

    Wonderful and thoughtful post, dear Sir. I fully appreciate it. Difficult to comment when I find myself in agreeing. Not bad for such a young man.

  7. AuntieChrist says:

    “Your ideas are intriguing to me and I wish to subscribe to your newsletter.”

    -- Homer Simpson (#1 cartoon character on FOX -- Glenn Beck rates #2)

    EXCELLENT article, Mr. Monk… :)

    Auntie Christ

    • KQuark says:

      😆 Ignorance loves company even more than misery.

      • AuntieChrist says:

        I believe if people were to read history, they’d enjoy it. unless their church pastors were to interpret it for them through apocalyptic tales (as they usually do).

        I’ve been enjoying reading Roman history again.

        There’s so much to be learned in that history repeats itself. The threat today isn’t that Obama is another Caesar, but that the corruption of politicians is real — and that he’s in a dangerous place in that those who are so corrupt care ONLY for their own political survival.

        To them… the nation be damned.

        • bitohistory says:

          Was it not Mark Twain that stated … history may not repeat itself, but it sure imitates it.

          • AuntieChrist says:

            With elected officials of the GOP basically echoing the words of Caligula, “let them hate me, so long as they fear me”, I believe Twain’s assessment to be correct.

            Though in truth, now that they’re wholly owned by the corporate media, if they were honest, they would say of their fellow Americans, “let them hate EVERYONE as long as they live in fear.”

            Regardless of party affiliation, the same attitude holds true with corrupt politicians all over the nation.

            Public financing needs to be a priority.

            Question is… How?

        • KQuark says:

          Yup the history lessons to learn are not about the leadership per say but about the corrupt system as a whole, including the corrupt citizens. The late Romans were driven by fear and not making the hard personal everyday choices far more than the fact that their government leadership failed. Roman leadership was up and down all through their golden age. The conservative church took over the Roman state and ruined it by demanding orthodoxy and and pimping fear. A good parallel is the way fundamentalist religious thinking AND corporations have taken over not just America but even the Western and Eastern hemispheres.

  8. FeloniousMonk says:

    This article started out from thinking about how words inspire us, and carry us. From my youth I remember the somber and powerful voice of the President, always starting “My fellow Americans” (LBJ). Whether you agreed or disagreed with him, you listened, because his voice and words carried authority. Many of us listened, and then protested like hell, I will say.

    In researching this, I found the website American Rhetoric (http://www.americanrhetoric.com/) which has many fine academic and not so academic sources about words, including a listing of the 100 most influential speeches in America in the 20th century, including the text and for many of them the original audio. So many of the progressive stances are to be found in the speeches listed. It is a must read for those wanting to gain more insight into where we as progressives came from.

  9. Kalima says:

    Diplomacy was dead and buried during the Bush thugs administration, now you have a man leading your country who makes speeches on the other side of the world, bringing cheers, applause and tear filled eyes. You should all be feeling very proud of your President for bridging the gaping hole that developed during Bush’s reign of “terror.”

  10. VegasBabe says:

    I liked what you had to say. And as I think of it, probably couldn’t have come at a better time. Thank you!

  11. KQuark says:

    Excellent topic and some great points and links. Language far and away separates us from other species on the planet. Some species communicate but they don’t have growing languages and the ability of preserving language like the excellent citations you use as examples.

    Humans have the ability to use language either as a way to bring hope and progress or promote fear and stagnation. Unfortunately many hateful and fearful uses of language have resulted in terrible wars and the proliferation of racism. The most disturbing recent development in the use of words is the Orwellian ways leaders uses words to manipulate us, especially the corporatists and right wingers.

    • AlphaBitch says:

      And then there’s Sarah Palin, who may well be the missing link evidently between humans and other species (insofar as language). (Or was it George W.?)

      Loved your last paragraph; I never bought into the childhood saying “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” I know of no one who has not been hurt by words at some point in their life. It’s important that we choose them carefully.

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