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The Power of Words: A Response to Marilyn's Challenge

Updated on April 27, 2015

And Here is the Challenge

Words: The Writer's Resource

“I'm always amazed how each writer takes the same words and creates a completely different story. Some educate, others enchant and a few entertain. Which category is most authentic for you?

This challenge is to write about how you value, use and create your finished piece using our common denominator - words.”

the writer's tools
the writer's tools

My Story

I love writing. In high school I took every AP (advanced placement) English course available and was on the fast track for an English major in college. However, I soon recognized that if I did not teach (something I am loath to do) I would no doubt starve, so I switched majors.

Fast forward “several” decades.

I joined the Hubs community four years ago. I am passionate about cooking. I write about food and enjoy sharing my recipes. My philosophy has always been that food is more than mere sustenance. Good food (and why waste time on mediocre food?) should tell a story, create a lasting memory. I strive to do that with my writings. Each recipe is accompanied with a story. That is how I use my love of writing today.

I cannot, however, be presumptuous enough to compare my writing to that which all of you create. So for that reason, I am going to take a slightly different approach to this challenge, focusing not on how I use words but rather the impact the words of others have had on our society.

The Value of Words

A paintbrush can be a powerful tool. In the hands of an artist is it said that one picture has the value of a thousand words.

Which leads me to wonder--what is the power of a thousand words?

Words have been used to rally nations to their feet, or humble empires to their knees. Words can inspire or deflate, they gladden and they sadden.

And when the speaker is gone, those words will endure.

The Gettysburg Address

Four months after the Battle of Gettysburg, President Abraham Lincoln dedicated the site of that horrific conflict as a National Cemetery. Lincoln was not the only speaker that day, but his words are the only ones that we remember (or care to). Famed orator and former Secretary of State Edward Everett delivered a two-hour speech. In contract, Lincoln's speech, which we call “The Gettysburg Address” was strikingly brief. With just 275 words he reiterated the principles of equality embraced in the Declaration of Independence and began the healing of a nation torn apart by industrial and socio-economic differences.

King George VI of Great Britain
King George VI of Great Britain

For the sake of all we ourselves hold dear, and of the world order and peace, it is unthinkable that we should refuse to meet the challenge

The King's Speech

“The King’s Speech” won an Oscar for Best Picture. The film presents the story of King George VI’s radio address to the people of Great Britain, telling them that once again their nation would be going to war with Germany.

In this grave hour, perhaps the most fateful in history, I send to every household of my peoples, both at home and overseas, this message, spoken with the same depth of feeling for each one of you as if I were able to cross your threshold and speak to you myself. For the second time in the lives of most of us, we are at war. Over and over again, we have tried to find a peaceful way out of the differences between ourselves and those who are now our enemies, but it has been in vain. We have been forced into a conflict, for which we are called, with our allies to meet the challenge of a principle which, if it were to prevail, would be fatal to any civilized order in the world. It is a principle which permits a state in the selfish pursuit of power to disregard its treaties and its solemn pledges, which sanctions the use of force or threat of force against the sovereignty and independence of other states. Such a principle, stripped of all disguise, is surely the mere primitive doctrine that might is right, and if this principle were established throughout the world, the freedom of our own country and of the whole British Commonwealth of nations would be in danger. But far more than this, the peoples of the world would be kept in bondage of fear, and all hopes of settled peace and of the security of justice and liberty among nations, would be ended. This is the ultimate issue which confronts us. For the sake of all we ourselves hold dear, and of the world order and peace, it is unthinkable that we should refuse to meet the challenge. It is to this high purpose that I now call my people at home and my people across the seas who will make our cause their own. I ask them to stand calm and firm and united in this time of trial. The task will be hard. There may be dark days ahead, and war can no longer be confined to the battlefield, but we can only do the right as we see the right, and reverently commit our cause to God. If one and all we keep resolutely faithful to it, ready for whatever service or sacrifice it may demand, then with God’s help, we shall prevail. May He bless and keep us all.

In just 404 words the King gave his citizens reassurance that their country was on the right course. And he gave them direction--"stand firm and united in this time of trial"--a commission that no doubt helped them feel more in control of an uncontrolled situation.

Martin Luther King, Jr. at march on Washington, D.C.
Martin Luther King, Jr. at march on Washington, D.C.

I Have A Dream

On August 28, 1963, during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, Martin Luther King Jr. delivered what would be a path-breaking moment for the Civil Rights Movement in America.

I say to you today, my friends, that in spite of the difficulties and frustrations of the moment, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal."
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave-owners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood.
I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a desert state, sweltering with the heat of injustice and oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
I have a dream today.
I have a dream that one day the state of Alabama, whose governor's lips are presently dripping with the words of interposition and nullification, will be transformed into a situation where little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls and walk together as sisters and brothers.
I have a dream today.
I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.

The length of this speech – 288 words

John F. Kennedy at Berlin
John F. Kennedy at Berlin

Ich Bien Ein Berliner!

If you are over 60 years of age, the words "Ich bin ein Berliner" will have a special meaning to you. Although grammatically incorrect, this phrase was nonetheless powerful. On June 26, 1963, John F. Kennedy, 35th President of the United States of America, paid a historic visit to Berlin where two years earlier the infamous Berlin Wall had been constructed. Kennedy travelled there to challenge Soviet oppression and to offer hope to the people of the divided city.

In angry, passionate and shockingly undiplomatic language, Kennedy spoke truth to the power of Soviet totalitarianism in the shadow of the horrid Berlin Wall and proudly declared, “I am a Berliner.” No American president since has commanded the world’s attention as John Kennedy did 52 years ago. The length of that speech was 674 words.

(Man) is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. The poet's, the writer's, duty is to write about these things.

And Finally, The Writer's Duty

William Faulkner was a novelist. Much of his early work was poetry, but he became famous for his novels set in the American South, frequently in his fabricated Yoknapatawpha County, with works that included The Sound and the Fury, As I Lay Dying and Absalom, Absalom! One of his greatest professional moments came when he was awarded the 1949 Nobel Prize in Literature. On December 10, 1950 he delivered these 549 words in his acceptance speech:

I feel that this award was not made to me as a man, but to my work--a life's work in the agony and sweat of the human spirit, not for glory and least of all for profit, but to create out of the materials of the human spirit something which did not exist before. So this award is only mine in trust. It will not be difficult to find a dedication for the money part of it commensurate with the purpose and significance of its origin. But I would like to do the same with the acclaim too, by using this moment as a pinnacle from which I might be listened to by the young men and women already dedicated to the same anguish and travail, among whom is already that one who will some day stand where I am standing.

Our tragedy today is a general and universal physical fear so long sustained by now that we can even bear it. There are no longer problems of the spirit. There is only one question: When will I be blown up? Because of this, the young man or woman writing today has forgotten the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself which alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat. He must learn them again. He must teach himself that the basest of all things is to be afraid: and, teaching himself that, forget it forever, leaving no room in his workshop for anything but the old verities and truths of the heart, the universal truths lacking which any story is ephemeral and doomed--love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice. Until he does so, he labors under a curse. He writes not of love but of lust, of defeats in which nobody loses anything of value, and victories without hope and worst of all, without pity or compassion. His griefs grieve on no universal bones, leaving no scars. He writes not of the heart but of the glands.

Until he learns these things, he will write as though he stood among and watched the end of man. I decline to accept the end of man. It is easy enough to say that man is immortal because he will endure: that when the last ding-dong of doom has clanged and faded from the last worthless rock hanging tideless in the last red and dying evening, that even then there will still be one more sound: that of his puny inexhaustible voice, still talking. I refuse to accept this. I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. The poet's, the writer's, duty is to write about these things. It is his privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past. The poet's voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail. 549

(Man) is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. The poet's, the writer's, duty is to write about these things.

Making It Memorable

What makes a memorable speech? Have you ever walked away from a presentation and asked yourself “What was he talking about?”

It is possible that some great speeches are totally impromptu, but most take careful planning, research, rehearsal, and revision. To help insure a successful presentation:

  • Start at the end. Yes, write the conclusion first. The last words that you utter will be the ones that your audience takes away with them. Know what you want them to think or feel or do as a result of your speech.
  • Have a point, and repeat it several times. My high school debate teacher instructed us to “tell the audience what you are going to tell them, “tell them”, and then “tell them what you told them.”
  • Use the common principles of story-telling.—Every good story needs a beginning, a middle, and an end.
  • Have clear connections from one main point to the next. Use sentences between them such as, “Now that we have discussed the problem, let’s move on to examine some possible solutions” so the audience doesn’t lose track of where you are going in your speech. And in the conclusion, saying something simple like “In conclusion ... ” or “To summarize what we talked about today .… ”
  • Connect with your audience. Think of your speech as a conversation (even though you are the person doing all of the talking). Be mindful of who your audience is and approach them appropriately. Don’t talk down to them, but do make sure that the words you are using will be understandable to them.
  • Don’t lecture or merely recite words. No one has ever gone to bed happily after hearing a bedtime lecture. Tell a story and recognize the difference between “reading” and “talking”. Write your speech so that is sounds more like a conversation.
  • End with a key sentence.

And even the best-written speech will bore an audience to tears (or cure insomnia) if not delivered well. Know your topic. Rehearse, rehearse, and rehearse some more. The last thing you want to do is constantly refer to the piece of paper before you and drone on in a monotone.

Be lively.

Be memorable.

Recognize the power of words.

© 2015 Linda Lum


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    • Venkatachari M profile image

      Venkatachari M 2 years ago from Hyderabad, India

      Very great and interesting response to the challenge. Really words are so much powerful in appealing to people through our wonderful speeches and writings. You have given many great examples here to give weight to your response. Voted up.

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 2 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      What powerful speeches you have included in your hub. Yes, the power of a thousand words can really be astounding.

    • Carb Diva profile image

      Linda Lum 2 years ago from Washington State, USA

      Jackie - Thank you so very much for your support. Have you considered taking the challenge too?

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 2 years ago from The Beautiful South

      Enjoyed this very much; voted up and shared.

    • Carb Diva profile image

      Linda Lum 2 years ago from Washington State, USA

      Flourish - Thank you for stopping by. Yes, the important factor is quality, not quantity. What I thought was key is that each of these speakers presented their thoughts clearly and concisely. That is what makes them so memorable.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 2 years ago from USA

      What an inspiring collection of favorites and should-be better known speeches. It's not so much the length of each writer's or orator's words but the connection s/he makes to the common experience.

    • Carb Diva profile image

      Linda Lum 2 years ago from Washington State, USA

      Bill, I knew I would hear from you, but not today while the sun is shining. It is much too lovely to be indoors...unless, of course, you have bronchitis (that's my excuse). Day 10 and counting. It is warm enough that I might venture out for a bit and sip a cup of hot tea while sitting on the porch.

      Thank you for sharing this writer's challenge with me. I enjoyed doing the research and hope that others enjoy it as well.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I love the route you took, Linda. You just mentioned some of the greatest words ever written, and a couple of my favorite speeches. I still get goosebumps when I see a video of King or Kennedy speak. Thanks for a great Saturday read. I'm enjoying the sunny skies. How about you?