Words are dangerous. No really, they are. That old rhyme of Sticks-and-stones-may-break-my-bones-but-words-will-never-hurt-me?
What a load of hooey.
Words are powerful. They are weapons. They are balms. Words change the world.
In the early/mid 1800’s Heinrich Heine, a German-Jewish poet said, “Whenever books are burned, human beings are destined to be burned too.” In 1933 the Nazis started burning books. Why? Because they had “un-German thoughts”.
Hitler, it seems, was afraid of the power of words. He knew they were dangerous. (Learn more about it HERE)
The other day I started reading Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor.
I’d realized that I had somehow missed reading this book in middle school (I missed a lot of the classic teen reads in those days…It’s a long story). I figured I ought to catch up before my daughter hits those novels like the reading maniac she is.
This novel is set in 1930’s Mississippi. The protagonist is an African American girl. I’m sure you can figure out how volatile it was to be black in the south (or anywhere in the U.S.A) in the 1930’s. 1960’s. 2014.
It didn’t take me long to realize that this book must be on the good old Banned Books List. Why is it banned? Because it depicts racism in the south in a way that a white woman deemed “inappropriate for children”.
Because words have power. Words that tell the truth, that strip away a coating of sugar – Those words are weapons.
My daughter, who is often intrigued by what I’m reading, asked about the book.
“You’ll get to read it in a few years,” I said. “And then I want to hear what you think about it.”
“Okay.” She smiled. “Will I read it at school?”
“Oh, I don’t know. It’s a banned book,” I said.
I explained what that meant. She thought it was pretty cool that I would allow the reading of a banned book in our home. I made sure she understood that all banned books read under my roof necessitated a discussion with me. She grinned at our conspiracy. We shook on the agreement.
Man, I love that my daughter is so into words and stories.
You know what? She understands the power of words. Yeah. I’m bragging.
As an author, my days are full up to the rafters with words. I push them around, cross them off, try to spell them correctly (thank goodness for that red dash under the funkily spelled ones). Words can be a balm. They can also be a dagger. I have to be mindful of how I use my words.
Because they have power.
I suspect that Steinbeck knew that. So did Harper Lee. Faulkner and E.B. White got it too. Their words made a difference. They shook things up a bit.
They jabbed at how the world was/is and showed how it could/can be.
This is the power of words.
In the beginning was the Word, and the word was with God, and the word was God.
John 1:1 of The Bible (banned book)