The Power Of Words This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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   He gives a graphic account of how the Muslims pinned a Christian's intestines to the wall and made him walk slowly backward until they completely unraveled. "Undertake this journey eagerly for the remission of your sins," he encourages the Christians. "Avenge these wrongs and recover this territory. Let this one cry be raised by all soldiers of God: Deus la vult! Deus la vult! God wills it!"

Thus Pope Urban II began the Crusades against the Muslims. Thus began centuries of war and deaths. Such is the power of words.

History is crowded with examples of the power of words. Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852) inflamed anti-slavery passions throughout the United States with such effectiveness that Abraham Lincoln cited her as a cause of the Civil War. According to many scholars, Martin Luther, the man credited with starting Protestantism, was successful in bringing about the Reformation because of his incredible linguistic skills. (It is no coincidence that the Reformation began shortly after the printing press became widely used.) More recent history shows us the impact that words can have on our environment. After Rachel Carson's Silent Spring (1962) warned that excessive use of pesticides was destroying wildlife, the United States government banned the insecticide DDT.

Even today, people use the power of words to their advantage. Both the Israeli and Palestine governments complain that each other's TV shows for children promote hatred of the opposite country. Opposing parties in Bosnia-Herzegovina are fighting over a TV transmitter because they know that whoever controls the media holds the greatest authority. Japan's Education Ministry knows the power of words when it screens textbooks. Until recently, the Ministry wouldn't allow Japanese students to know of the heinous biological experiments Japan performed on people in northern China during World War II.

Before I continue, I want to congratulate any student who has read this far. Most teenagers (and even many adults) would stop at the mention of history because it is often synonymous with boring. I commend you for reading past "Bosnia-Herzegovina" even though (heaven forbid) it has more than seven syllables. So now the big question is "So what? What does this have to do with me?"

High school students are easily swayed by pretty words. I was struck by this fact when I participated in a debate about Joan of Arc in one of my classes. A fellow student (we'll call him Ryan) said that Joan was only able to help France because she slept with the French king and his armies. Although there is absolutely no substance to this argument, Ryan was funny, witty, and persuasive. My classmates voted him winner of the debate. My friend told me in all sincerity that she thought Ryan was convincing and had a good argument.

Besides wanting to hurl, I was impressed by Ryan's eloquence. I realized that people can use pretty words to wrap up a package of nothing and make it look like gold. The power of words is so huge it's scary. People have used it throughout history and are using words today to sway others. Don't be easily swayed. Filter the garbage out of what you hear. To see the consequences of following pretty words, just look at all the people who died in the Crusades, and look the Nazis who followed Hitler.

Students, beware. ?


This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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