The power of words
Yesterday, January 20, 2021, we witnessed the inauguration of Joe Biden as the 46th president of the United States and of Vice-President Kamala Harris. The ceremony was filled with messages, constructed by words, shared by many people in positions of power – both in our national government and in the entertainment industry – through speech, recitation, song, and poetry. These messages and the effect of the words delivered throughout the event caused me to revisit a quote from Margaret Atwood who said, “A word after a word after a word is power.”
In this post, I want to highlight some of the words that resonated with me from yesterday’s event, other historical instances of the power of words, and advice for how you can ensure that the words you use in your writing exhibit the power of your message.
Inauguration Day 2021
As noted above, the words associated with this historic event in our country, the swearing in of the 46th president of the United States of America and of the first female, first Black, and first South Asian vice president, were symbolic, prophetic, reflective, and ever-present in each aspect of the ceremony.
The National Anthem and Pledge of Allegiance
Despite a career defined by extravagant performances and colorful costumes, Lady Gaga appeared humble, poised, and elegant in an unembellished, clear, and respectful delivery of The Star Spangled Banner carefully delivering each word of the song with the reverence due to the flag it was written to honor. Having seen many self-serving performers “enhance” their delivery of this song at Super Bowls and other events, and knowing the bold, eclectic style typical of Lady Gaga, seeing a performance true to the purpose and clear in the message was appreciated.
Following that performance, the delivery of the Pledge of Allegiance was equally patriotic and each word was enhanced through sign language used by the firefighter responsible for its recitation. This enhancement showed a dedication to the words “for all” with an unannounced act of inclusion.
Patriotic songs performed by Jennifer Lopez
Although faced with criticism as self-serving for incorporation of one of her hit songs into the medley of patriotic songs, Jennifer Lopez used words – both in song choice and inclusion of a Spanish translation of part of the Pledge of Allegiance – to further convey the message of unity and inclusivity in her performance. As an adult listening to these patriotic songs sung many times in my childhood, the words had a greater significance delivered in this setting and by another celebrity performer who appeared appreciative of the honor of being able to share them.
Oath of office
Diversity was prominent in the swearing in of Kamala Harris as the first female, first Black, and first South Asian vice president in history with her oath of office being administered by the first Latino Supreme Court justice, Sonia Sotomayor. Despite these differences of ethnic background from previous vice presidents, the words recited in commitment to the position were the same as ever.
Likewise, Joe Biden, having previously taken the oath sworn by Harris, recited a new oath as he was sworn in as president. Supporting this oath, Biden delivered a message of unity in his inauguration speech, expressing through spoken word his intention to be a president for both his supporters and those who did not support him during the election process.
The Hill We Climb
The nation’s first youth poet laureate, Amanda Gorman, echoed the message of unity through her poetic use of words including the following:
“And, yes, we are far from polished, far from pristine, but that doesn’t mean we are striving to form a union that is perfect, we are striving to forge a union with purpose, to compose a country committed to all cultures, colors, characters and conditions of man.”
The complete text of her poem, “The Hill We Climb”, can be found here.
Understanding the power of words
The power of words is something that has guided, defined, and shaped our culture and society for ages. Examples like Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, and John F. Kennedy’s shared vision that “we choose to go to the moon” have all offered inspiration, direction, and empowerment to those with whom the words were shared.
As authors, our words are our power. Our words can be uplifting or they can be destructive. They can be truthful or deceptive. They can unite people or divide them. They can be a source of creativity or restrict the progress of those they affect.
What you choose to do with your words, I can only hope leaves a positive impact. After all, in the lesson given to The Amazing Spider-Man, “with great power comes great responsibility.”