Words have the power to change us
The problem is that when I read the news, I take everything to heart — the sob stories, the tragedies, the snide debates.
And because most people want a fixed world, it happens that occasionally, one becomes as negative as the doomsday stories one ingests.
This week, I felt so pessimistic, so overwhelmed by my moroseness, that I trawled my own writing for clues to a pattern. Found it quickly. “I’m fed up with being fed up”, I wrote in 2016.
Nothing much has changed. Being fed up is always a good place to begin: having had enough of yourself, you become better.
The online Buzzfeed community was once asked to share favourite lines from literature, whether famous or obscure.
The results were astounding; what we most like to read is that which uplifts us, buoys our spirits, triggers our innate appreciation of nature, beauty and love.
It’s as Cassandra Clare says in The Infernal Devices: “One must always be careful of books, and what is inside them, for words have the power to change us.”
That holds for thoughts and words, too — and not only if you’re a put-out, pouty politician with axes to grind and ballots to grab.
Words, which are simply thoughts taken out of mouths and either spoken or placed on a page, have the absolute power to not only lift us out of a personal mood, but to stop wars.
When I told my English pupils that the pen was mightier than the sword, I believed it, and still do.
Reading through the Buzzfeed list of most beautiful quotes, I found not one that described aggression, rivalry, jealousy, murder, robbery, suspicion or skulduggery.
Obviously — since that is not really, truly who any of us is. Instead, we want to gape at the mysteries and pleasures of love, the universe and a life lived wildly, colourfully.
We love things such as this: “Beauty is an enormous, unmerited gift given randomly, stupidly.” (Khaled Hosseini, And the Mountains Echoed) and “She wasn’t doing a thing that I could see, except standing there leaning on the balcony railing, holding the universe together.” (J.D. Salinger, A Girl I Knew).
We also want to know that we’ve done something useful with who we are and fear the regret which comes with not doing that: “Sometimes I can feel my bones straining under the weight of all the lives I’m not living.” (Jonathan Safran Foer, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close)
Side by side with food, shelter and arms to love us, we all need words to shape the infinite potential of who we are and may become.
An impoverished child, living hand-to-mouth, is as emotionally available to the mysterious chemistry of words as anyone else; a story of courage and strength in adversity could be the very difference between life and death for that child.
We should, I wrote, revisit the necessity of books — and the people who turn their thoughts into words to place in them — and how we really do have the power to change our worlds by speaking wisely and about stuff that actually counts.
“In spite of everything,” wrote Anne Frank, “I still believe people are really good at heart.”