One of the things I’ve heard frequently over the course of this miserable presidential campaign is that Trump might be offensive, but what he says are “only words.” As if words are something different from action; as if words are not, in fact, the most powerful way that human beings act.
To speak is to create. In Genesis, God speaks and the world itself is brought into existence. With a word, there is light where there was darkness; order where there was chaos; life where there was none.
The power to speak, to reason, is what separates us from the animals. It is the image of God within us. It is the spark of divinity that makes us co-creators with God, a staggering power that God has entrusted to our care.
And with our words, we choose what we create.
Our words forge new realities. With the words “I do,” separate people become one in union. Our constitutions—words on a page—build nations. The words that make up our laws define the limits of our society and the kind of community we will be.
More subtly, words form culture. And culture shapes who we are in ways that are so ingrained we can’t even see them, like fish in water. That’s why the kind of language we use matters. That’s why blasphemy and gross generalizations and cruel comments and vulgar boasting of sexual exploitation are so damaging. Because they create a culture of blasphemy, gross generalization, cruelty, vulgarity, and sexual exploitation.
Look around. That’s the world we’ve built. With our words.
So I don’t want to hear any more about how any of this is “only words.” There is no such thing. Our words are everything. They tyrannize or they liberate. They degrade or they build up. They wound or they heal.
They are our power: perhaps the only real power we have.