I am thinking today about the power of words. Actually, I think about words every day. But, the controversy surrounding MSNBC host Martin Bashir’s vicious words for political pundit Sarah Palin and subsequent apology is an important reminder for how words, if not used with a reasonable amount of diplomacy and discretion, can produce disastrous results.
Try to fathom for a moment the sheer number of words that zip across the airwaves in our modern culture. Like never before, words and the sentiments they convey, are permeating our culture in ways never before experienced before.
Blaring, bold, all-caps – through Facebook, Twitter, emails and blogs, 24-hour news outlets – words fly the world over, sparking debate, inciting fear, emboldening enemies, making us wince, cower or snicker.
Do I advocate censorship or the silencing of the public’s voice? Absolutely not.
Do I think life should be all about butterflies and rainbows? Nope.
But, I do want to take this moment to reiterate my hope that, as writers, we take to heart our mission to elevate civil discourse and help readers aspire to noble ideas.
We can do this by treating words as sacred. By choosing them with care. By understanding their power for good and for evil. By realizing that they will outlast us all by centuries and speak to the future long after we are gone.
I am also thinking about President Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, delivered to a war-weary nation 150 years ago today on the battlefield where so much blood was shed during the Civil War.
It is certainly one of the most artfully, beautifully crafted speeches ever delivered by a president and spoke directly and succinctly to the American people and generations to follow.
Chances are, in news columns across the country, the story of Bashir’s comments will sit alongside articles detailing the commemoration festivities held in Pennsylvania today.
I hope you won’t miss the opportunity to see the irony of this juxtaposition and then give serious thought to your gifts and responsibilities as a writer.
Before closing with Lincoln’s famous speech, think on this — what can I do to contribute glory to the world of words?
“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that this nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. 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.”
Kerri S. Mabee