Why do words matter?

power of words


I remember seeing an article a few years ago about the bubble in which we now live.

According to the piece, the bubble is one of pictures, not words.

With the advent of smart phones containing powerful cameras and iPads and other tablets that can produce motion picture quality videos for instant posting on YouTube, we are never at a loss for pictures, even if they are simply the latest narcissistic selfies.

The bubble forms a canopy over our entire society.

It has its good points for sure. Take the recent caught redhanded pictures of law enforcement atrocities. The incidents chronicled in contemporaneous snapshots put to rest for ever speculation about what really happened.

But what about the power of words?

Without the right words to set them in context, pictures often lack depth of meaning.

It is harder to express an event in words than it is to click a picture and post it.

One of the first things a person learns in law school is that eye witness testimony is the most unreliable. That may seem strange because we tend now to believe that a picture is the Holy Grail of proof.

Not without explanation.

Herein lies the lasting importance of books, or more precisely, novels.

Novels are the high point of the use of words.

They not only tell a story, they use words to fire readers’ imaginations and cause them to wonder about eternal human verities. They take a commonplace incident and pour into it insight about how things work, or don’t work.

Take a selfie.

When we see a picture of a person with a funny look on her face, we want to know more. Or we should want to know more. Who is she? Why did she find this moment noteworthy enough to share? What happened to her next? What happened to her to prompt her to take the picture? Who was with her? Why were they at that place, at that time? Did something horrific happen? Was the picture a way of issuing an insult, a sideways slur? Was it a compliment to someone she admired but was afraid she could not approach?

Or those recent highly publicized videos of unprovoked violence.

Until the trial rolls around we will be left in a vacuum. Who was the victim? Who was the cop who pulled the trigger? Why was the photographer in a position to capture the scene?

We won’t know any of this until the story is told.

With words.

I’ve read that a movie is a story told in pictures, while a novel is one shown with words. In the world of the bubble, we lose track of meaning if we chop away the words and never hear the story.



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