Words have power. This is my credo, the closest thing I have to a statement of faith. I love them and, sometimes, they love me back. I have surrounded myself with them as a reader, as a librarian, as a writer, and as a conscious human being. It is the power of words that has driven my professional and personal life, shaped my philosophy, and improved my level of discourse.
The primary power of words is inspiration. Words can implant ideas, motivate actions, change emotions, and invoke memories. To deny this is to deny the impact of thousands of years of literature, storytelling, and narrative. Every person I have ever encountered can name a favorite book, author, or film that has moved them or a speaker that has inspired them.
Obviously, with my love of words censorship is anathema to me. As I said in a past blog about “Banned Books” week:
As a writer, I can accept the idea that what I create can be deemed poorly written, not interesting, or uninspired. But the thought that someone could arbitrarily label my work as “offensive” or “morally wrong” is abhorrent to me. Even more abhorrent is the idea that because of such a label, others would be denied the right to read it and to form their own judgments…
When I hear about the harmful influence of various media (books, movies, TV, video games) my initial reaction is along the lines of “Here we go again…” and I lament the automatic blaming of the media for the behavior. Dungeons & Dragons never caused a suicide, Grand Theft Auto never caused a crime, and Harry Potter never pushed a child into converting to a Wiccan sect.
But in my mental ramblings over the past week, I tripped over this speed bump: If I accept that words have power, and that this power is inspiration, do I not have to also accept that this inspiration can motivate both positive and negative choices? Why is it inspiration only if it is to the positive? Why is it a matter of personal responsibility only when it is to the negative?
This brought me up short…nobody likes to realize that they’re being hypocritical.
But was I?
Words do indeed have the power to inspire, in both the negative and the positive. They can be the final push in whatever direction that life has led you. But it is up to you, to all of us, to make choices. We can move on that inspiration or we can not. We can weigh the moral, economic, political, or even purely selfish implications of the choice based on a variety of factors…which inevitably include the words which inspire us.
I would love for someone to tell me that they are inspired by what I do, either as a writer or as a human being. But I am not the cause, nor am I responsible for, the behavior of anyone else.
Now, should this realization that my words can inspire negative actions in others give me pause? Should I govern my writing accordingly? I absolutely should think about it…just as I should give thought to every single word I put on the page. As a writer I’m trying to provoke a response…that’s the point. If I produce a particularly violent piece I probably won’t market it as a children’s puppet play. But as a writer, I can’t be governed by what someone might do with what I write.
So, yes, I still believe in the power of words. And, as with all powerful things, they should be held in awe in their ability to create and to destroy. This isn’t a case in which “with great power comes great responsibility”, because the actions of others are not my responsibility. I poke, prod, and provoke the mind and the heart but I am not a puppeteer and won’t be held responsible for another person’s choices.