Thursday, January 6, 2011

wRITING REASON 2: Writing Has Power (part 1)

"But words are things, and a small drop of ink,
Falling like dew, upon a thought, produces
That which makes thousands, perhaps millions, think."

~ George Gordon Byron
Using Byron's quotation, I want to introduce "wRITING REASON 2," but I worked on this post for so long that the length GREW so large that I am dividing into two parts. AND before continuing, I want to add to Byron's thoughts with one of my own: Putting thoughts to words and words to paper increases their power. This idea is closely linked to wRITING REASON 1"Writing is an incredible tool that reaches farther than other forms of conversation do."

While researching ideas for this series of wRITING REASONS, I recently found a site that discussed how "words have the power to change things for good or ill." To make her point, the QUOTE LADY shared text samples to support the examples. With that inspiration, I decided to do the same. 

In teaching students about reasons for writing, I decided the power of the written word is an important inclusion for a couple of reasons. 1) There is historical evidence of changes for good and ill that were stimulated by powerful words. 2) These examples can function as "mentor texts" to help students improve their own writing. (Of course, we would NOT choose those texts that bring about "changes for ill!" ;)

Because written words usually have a "longer 'shelf  life,'" the chances to influence contemporary and future audiences increase, thus adding to their power. Plus these works serve as examples worthy of imitation. With that in mind, here are just a few samples of the millions of powerful words, spoken and written that live on.
  • Words can express a nation's [or a people's or an individual's] desire for freedom.  
Swing low, sweet chariot,
Comin' for to carry me home
I looked over Jordan and what did I see,
Comin' for to carry me home! 
A band of angels comin' after me
Comin' for to carry me home!

Swing low, sweet chariot,
Comin' for to carry me home
If you get there before I do,
Comin' for to carry me home.
Jes tell my friends that I'm acomin' too.
Comin' for to carry me home. .
Swing low, sweet chariot,
Comin' for to carry me home
I'm sometimes and up and sometimes down,
Comin' for to carry me home,
But still my soul feels heavenly bound. 
Comin' for to carry me home!  
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ 
But wait a minute, you say. That's not a song about freedom. That's a "spiritual!"
Yes, it is. BUT within those lyrics about souls and heaven are words of warning and instruction to help slaves make their way north to freedom. While plantation owners and overseers listened to the surface message, Harriet Tubman and those who helped her along the Underground Railroad sang spirituals to communicate a more immediate message. That "chariot" was a carriage or wagon that carried run-away slaves from their enslavement to "home," a place of freedom like Canada!
The singer might switch to another spiritual or "coded slave song" like "Wade in the Water" to direct escapees to head towards the river or stream to throw off search parties with their hounds hunting them down. POWERFUL WORDS that rendered hope and help! 
  • Words can offer forgiveness.
"My heart went out to whoever was driving that car — not knowing the circumstances, not really caring about the circumstances, just knowing that this was going to affect that individual."  ~ Chris Williams.
Chris is NOT the only person to forgive the source of personal pain and grief, but his words and story are symbolic of the power of words that forgive. Because of his willingness to reach out to Cameron White, the 17-year-old drunk driver who crashed into the Williams' car, killing Chris' pregnant wife, 11-year-old Ben, and 9-year-old daughter, Chris was able to positively impact Cameron's life. The two work together to educate youths and adults about the dangers of driving drunk.
Cameron's parents stated, "We are so grateful for Chris Williams' forgiveness of our son. That meant so much to us, and it has taught us a huge lesson." The record of this moving story continues to touch lives four years after that fateful night in February. POWER for GOOD.
  • Words seek to inspire.
    Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous States have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender, and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this Island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God’s good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old. ~ Winston Churchill
    It was June, 1940. Hitler had broken the French defenses, and the United States, though sympathetic, had not entered the war. Britain was on her own. In what many historians consider the most inspirational speech of all time, Winston Churchill prepared his countrymen for a possible Nazi invasion while assuring them that victory would be the outcome. And it was. 
    The tiny but proud country fought on alone, against extreme odds. While the Luftwaffe mercilessly bombed the island home of our British cousins, German soldiers never invaded there. Churchill's powerful words convinced members of Parliament and his fellow citizens that Britain could and should fight on!