Invention of words is as significant as the discovery of fire for mankind. Prehistoric men were able to hunt in groups and obtain food through cooperation. The group dynamics of humans improved once they settled in a place and started practicing agriculture. The need to identify objects and communicate increased once division of labor came into being. As inventions and the need for cooperation increased, the need for more signs or words to identify objects, actions and thoughts increased. Hence, one can say the evolution of words and languages has happened alongside the evolution of human civilization.
Without words, it would be difficult to start wars, incite riots and violence. It would also be difficult to buy a vegetable in the market, express ideas or invent new things for the benefit of mankind. They can make or break a personal relationship. Like a two edged sword, words have the potential to hurt the user as well as others.
Are words two edged swords ?
History has shown that words have an important role in the making of leaders and nations. Powerful oratory is one of the key examples which demonstrates the possibility of destruction or development that could happen because of the influence of words. Words are sharper than a two edged sword as they can turn millions of men into potent and dangerous weapons. In contrast, a two edged sword is dangerous only when it is in the hand of a skilled swordsman.
There were are also great leaders like Gandhi and Martin Luther King who used words to inspire people to fight for freedom and justice.”Do or die” call by the Mahatma inspired the entire nation during the quit India movement. “I have a dream” speech delivered by King has inspired people of USA to ensure justice for all in USA. Winston Churchill inspired the small Island of Great Britain to stand up to Hitler and win the second world war through his words “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.” Abraham Lincoln captured the imagination of people through his Gettysburg address. Leaders like Nehru through speeches like ‘tryst with destiny’ , inspired the entire nation to strive for success after a painful partition and freedom from colonial rule. This is the good part.
Fascist dictators like Hitler and Mussolini used words to convince people that hatred and killing of millions of Jews was justified. If you tell a big enough lie and tell it frequently enough, it will be believed. Terrorists like Osama Bin Laden used interpretations of Quran to wage Jihad on non-Muslims. They inspired people to blow up themselves for the sake of their religion. The 9/11 attack was one of the shocking revelation of the influence that words could have on the mind of people.
Closer home in the subcontinent, Muhammed Ali Jinnah incited riots through his call for ‘direct action day’. Millions of Muslims in Bengal and North West India went on a killing spree for the sake of Pakistan. Words can turn sane people into mad dogs. In this sense, words are sharper than swords as they can unleash violence comparable to that of an mercenaries armed with two edged swords.
The example of Mein Kampf written by Hitler is an example of the damaging potential of words. It was instrumental in planting anti semitism deep into the psyche of German public. It also served as the reference book for the Nazi party and outlined Hitler’s future plans for Germany that he set out to achieve after he captured power. He cites Judaism and Communism as the two key evils of the world in his book. About 2,40,000 copies of the book were sold by the time he became chancellor ( in 1933). During Hitler’s years in power, the book was given free to every newlywed couple and every soldier fighting at the front. By 1939 the book had sold 5.2 million copies in eleven languages.
Words are powerful because they are derived from thoughts and some of them have the potential to become actions in real life. They can turn sane men and women into cold blooded mass murderers or sympathizers of cold blooded mass murder. Clearly, Hitler understood the power of words and used it to serve his designs.
Words can also acquire immortality through books. Here, another challenge is encountered by people and societies. There is ample scope to misinterpret them and also distort them in order to serve the interests of an individual or groups. This is the case with almost all religious texts. The Vedas were used as an excuse to impose untouchability on Dalits. The Quran was used as an excuse for Jihad and deplorable practices like triple talaq. Karl Marx’s works were a call for a more humane treatment of workers across the world. The communists distorted Karl Marx’s works to run corrupt and repressive dictatorships in many parts of the world. Stalinist regime conducted brutal purges in the name of saving communism.
In interpersonal relations as well, the choice of words can make or break any relationship. When one is angry, the phrase “please leave me alone” is a thousand times better than “get lost” or “get out of my sight”. The phrase “you are an unpleasant person” is less damaging than the phrase ” you are son of a bitch”. Similarly , “I have a great deal of affection for you” sounds much better than a simple “I care for you” . Once words are used, they can never be taken back. The way one can express one’s discontent or affection in families or at a workplace can have a huge impact on the kind of response that one can get from the other side. This requires intelligence and also control on one’s words. Words are extremely important for healthy relationships. Words , if used irresponsibly, can act like two edged swords that can hurt the individual as well us others , sometime in a permanent manner.
From these examples, one can conclude that a lot of good or bad can be achieved through effective use of words. Words are two edged swords.
Are words sharper than two edged swords ?
Words written or said with good intentions can also be misused if the original writer is no longer alive to interpret it in the correct context. The potential to cause damage is higher than that of a sharp sword because, the words can capture the imagination of any person or group of persons and become and unassailable force. The strength of this force is many folds greater than that of a sharp two edged sword.
If Gandhi was less of an orator , the masses of India might not have supported in his non violent movement. If Hitler’s words were not persuasive , the German public might not have supported his brutal regime. If people knew how to use words gently, animosities in personal and professional relationships would never exist.
The sharpness of a sword can be ascertained by the kind of wounds it inflicts on the opponent. Wounds caused by a sword heal after some days whereas those caused by words remain for months or years (sometimes generations). Swords can kill few individuals, but words can drive a wedge between communities, provinces and nations. It can turn humans into blood thirsty hounds. They can be used to commit mass murder with active participation or passive approval of people.
Therefore, words are indeed sharper than a two edged sword.