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The power of words

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With Patrick Achitabwino:

Words are very powerful; words have no boundaries and are infinitive and timeless. Words will long be remembered even after damage has been done or an age after an empire was set.

Speaking at a Rally for Change in Boston, politician Deval Patrick eloquently emphasised that: “But I do know that the right words, spoken from the heart with conviction, with a vision of a better place and a faith in unseen, are a call to action. So when you hear my words, or speak your own to your neighbours, hear them and speak them as a call to action.”

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Since the creation of mankind, words have been the call to action. It is words that have resulted into fierce wars. The genocide in Rwanda was reinforced by hate speech.

It is even words at several general assemblies that stop wars and disagreements. It is words spoken at conferences and symposia that lead to a new mode of doing things. It is words delivered at annual general assemblies that give a new direction for an organisation.

Chris Abbot, in the book 21 Speeches That Changed The World, explains that Martin Luther King Jr’s soaring rhetoric captured the shame that racial segregation had brought on the United States but also the potential dream of full rights for African Americans.

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Today, racial segregation has largely given way to a socio-economic segregation in which race plays a huge part. Many in the world have heard the words ‘I have a dream.’ Even most people that are not under the whims of racial segregation still love that phrase as they also have a dream to see change in the world they live in.

With only three words, ‘yes, we can’, Barack Obama changed the thinking of Americans and brought in them the belief that now was the time for the realisation of the American dream, that they can no longer keep on waiting as they have been the ones they have been waiting for. Americans were energised to make their country great again.

Even though we are in 2022, what JF Kennedy spoke in his inaugural address in 1961 can never skip the mind of any American, young and old. His challenging of Americans citizens will ever challenge any American for time immemorial.

Of all the things, JF Kennedy is highly remembered for a simple part of a speech: “and so, my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.”

It is imperative to note that the words we use, whether verbally or in writing, can influence how others perceive us; can lead to people taking action. Any word we say factors into the decisions people make about us.

Words have the power to destroy or to build. The Buddha was right: “We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts we make the world.”

Most people failed in the path to achieve their dreams all just because other people told them that it was impossible. There are people that failed academically because nobody gave them an encouraging word when their studies were tough.

It only takes one word of encouragement to change the life a human being. The amazing Nick Vujicic, born without arms or legs, was encouraged to become a professional speaker by a gardener at his parental home.

While most people used to look down on him on the basis of his disability, the gardener told him that “one day you will be a speaker”. Vujicic even wondered, and asked: And speak about what?” Such were the days when professional speaking was just a developing business and young Vujicic was too far from realising that potential.

If it was not the encouraging word of the gardener, the world would not have the mesmerising and inspiring speaker in Nick Vujicic.

We are in the age where words seemingly spill out of us into social networks, in presentations, casual conversations, on blog comments and in the content we increasingly create and share with the world, but the question is, are we giving our words enough forethought?

As Tony Dovale points out, be a builder and not a breaker. Use your words to build the lives of other people, to propel them to new heights. Do not be the prophet of doom as words are sharper than a razor blade. While the razor blade can cut the skin, words can slice the mind and the wound can forever never be healed.

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