by Jeff Swanson
Words are the tools by which a great leader can move a nation, a people or an idea. The power of words, even a single word, can be both the inspiration for greatness or the accelerant of our greatest evils. Words can be the intoxication of wonderment and the damning of our worst impulse.
Yet the value of a word in these modern days is the currency of paupers.
That a nation can be formed on the basis if a simple statement of, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…”, this speaks to the great power of words and the nation they’ve guided for greater than two centuries.
As the words I choose to write, I have a choice to bring greater value to the written word or to devalue it with the inflation of words for words sake.
We have elected a President for whom words are a vehicle to propel personal achievement but are otherwise empty of truth.
In 2004, an Illinois Senator named Barack Obama told the nation, “There’s not a liberal America and a conservative America; there’s the United States of America. There’s not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America; there’s the United States of America.”
These words spoken in 2004 are worthy of any great speech, the truth hence is a President Obama that governs by separating and dividing. By not uniting under a shared, if hard fought, cause but a President that has pushed a nation already fractured by years of war further in to divide.
He had asked of historians, what would make him a transformational President? Proverbially carving his likeness upon Mount Rushmore.
The means or the words he chose, before his Presidency, belies the reason why he failed his greatest opportunity at transformation; Barack Obama spent his life dividing people. His greatest opportunity was to heal, if not in total, the centuries of racial discord.
He chose to divide with words, though not explicitly racial, along lines that would divide our nation in to ethnic factions.
If a single word in our lexicon should never be freed of it’s meaning or power, it is the word ‘racism’. No single word has killed more humans or proven the depravity of mankind greater than this word.
The currency invested in this word and the deflation of its value has seen no greater loss than with this election season. With the invocation of imagined dog whistles such as the terms of ‘professor’ or ‘urban’ as a means to suggest racist intent only led to the disempowerment of a word previously so powerful; that those whom suffer at its feet, at the feet of racism, no longer have a word that fairly describes the plight of racism.
“The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” Words of Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg.
These words spoken at a time of our nations greatest division. When our nation is separated, our leaders can choose to unite if not for a single purpose but under single idea. An idea that we can, together, become a better nation. Whether that nation is in the eyes of my own vision or in the eyes of a vision very different than mine.
We cannot unite if we are divided in to separate factions. Factions determined as the 1% or so-called ‘millionaires and billionaires’. Of have and have nots. That our best aspirational sentiment be crushed with words of jealousy.
Words can inspire greatness but can inspire the greatest tyrannies, “The leader of genius must have the ability to make different opponents appear as if they belonged to one category.” These are words that could be taken from the handbooks of the liberal campaign strategist. It was virtually the playbook of this most recent election. The quote was written by Adolf Hitler in Mein Kampf.
These are words of division. Nonetheless, these words echo liberal concepts as we know them today. It would be horribly unfair to brush the modern liberal with the same brush as that of the twentieth century’s most brutal despot.
At its core, words you choose are a matter of speaking to personal aspirations or choosing to divide, categorize or demonize those whom you dislike. Not judging a person by their actions but simply because the are part of a category.
Though social media has allowed us to be more connected, we have also suffered the consequences of electronic separation.
Where once we chose words carefully ensuring we would not offend those that stood before us, the psychological distance of the electronic medium has allowed us to forego social practices that have made for a respectful society.
It has become easy to offend with impunity simply because there is no immediate consequence.
The devaluation of words has come not from the actual venue of social media. A venue that is more democratic than most. The means by which we communicate within the media, the written word, we have devalued the truth of words we choose simply because we no longer must choose them with care.
It is not the value of the words you choose but the value that others place in your words. This determines the value of currency in your words.
We have chosen by a narrow margin in this nation, a philosophy that divides. A philosophy that creates categories of people that might otherwise be alike. Because of categories, words of division, we are a nation that cannot unite on its very own future.
The power of a word is found in the choices we make when using it. We can choose to inspire greatness. Inspire hope in the future. Or we can choose words that destroy.
The greatness of a leader is not in how small he or she can divide its nation’s people. In lieu of other options, a nation divided will choose not of self interest but selfish interest.
Action often does not exist without words to inspire them. In the words we choose, in the words our leaders choose, we make a choice of what nation we wish to live in. A nation divided by race or by perceived inequities of social strata will never be a nation of unique greatness. This would be a failed empire.
Words are the means and the tools of great leaders. Do the leaders we choose reflect greatness or reflect the worst and darkest within us?