Adam Smith put a quote on his Facebook page:
Words are singularly the most powerful force available to humanity. We can choose to use this force constructively with words of encouragement, or destructively using words of despair. Words have energy and power with the ability to help, to heal, to hinder, to hurt, to harm, to humiliate and to humble. – Yehuda Berg
And then he added a link to an article he wrote about the power of encouragement.
The article was good. But the quote above it was mistaken.
If you’re read my blog, you know I have a solution for our political problems. It came from distinguishing “political accountability” and real accountability. There’s incredible power in distinguishing. So let’s use it on words.
I don’t mean to criticize Yehuda Berg. The quote is fine. And its effect on people is good. But words aren’t powerful. There’s even more power to be gained if we find where the real power is coming from.
Words are not powerful
Words are actually powerless. Write them down. If no one sees them, they’re powerless. Yes, they sometimes seem to have a little power from the act of writing them and then seeing what you wrote. But it’s just a little.
So is it that they’re heard? No- if my dog hears them, they’re also powerless. Read the Declaration of Independence to him. There’s no power in hearing the words. Or read it to someone who knows no English. Again, the words have no power.
But if you show the written words to someone who reads English, they might have some power. And if you speak them over the phone, with intonation and expression, they could have more. And if you are face-to-face with someone, they have even more power. Why do the same words have different power not just for different people, but with different modes of delivery? It’s not the words.
It’s the listening
It’s the listening that gives them power. And most people listen better when they listen than when they read. And most people listen even better when you’re with them and expressive.
If you listen to something with the attitude “I already know this stuff”, you’ll probably get little out of it. Listen with “There’s some kind of gold here” and the words will have much more effect. People have the power.
What if the listener doesn’t make the words powerful?
Adam’s article was about words of encouragement. Have you ever encouraged someone, but your words had no effect?
- How was the person listening to you?
- Who are you to them that they listen to you like that?
- Who did you want to be?
- What happened that there’s a difference?
It’s tough to know what’s happening with someone else. How about with you?
Have you ever heard words of praise or encouragement that made little difference to you? How were you listening?
What if you determine the power of the words you hear?
What if you were the cause of how powerful other people’s words seem?
Let’s do an experiment. Read this page like there’s a wonderful new idea here. Real gold. Can you listen in a way that makes those words powerful?
Power comes from you, both the power of words and the power in politics. And if you’re silent, others’ voices will seem more powerful.
Similarly, our political system has almost no way for you to exert power. And in this system, most of us are listening like we’re powerless. We make it true. Support a small change that’ll make you, and other citizens, politically powerful.