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Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Pen is Mightier than the Sword

"The pen is mightier than the sword" – when has that proved true for you? Do you fight better with words or with your fists? In fighting with the words, do you tend to pout? Tease? Provoke? Ridicule? Do you get your best zingers by thinking quickly on your feet, or by composing your words on paper? (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, page 666).

The statement "The pen is mightier than the sword" raises the question "To what extent are words backed up by the sword?" Obviously, it is difficult to say with certitude that words alone are effective if they are always backed up by the sword – the underlying threat of violence or physical force in one form or another. Another difficulty is discerning where words leave off and ideas begin. For example, the word "liberty" is powerful. But to what extent does the power come from the idea or concept of liberty and not from the word itself (a symbol taking on the forceful attributes of the underlying concept)? Since it is difficult to differentiate and pristinely isolate the idea from the word, perhaps one could just as well say "Ideas are mightier than the sword." But words deal not only with intellectual concepts, but reveal emotion and attitude. So in dealing with this question we need to add another saying "Attitude is mightier than the sword."

We can amplify the original statement as follows: the pen (or words or ideas or attitudes) are mightier than the sword (the exercise or threat of violence or physical force in one form or another). The question asked was: "when has that proved true for you?" The first response of many might well be that words are the only tool they've ever had – never having significant authority or power with which to threaten others. This is a disingenuous response for it is in the nature of man to harbor power. For example, some of the most significant exercises of power ever made were made by martyrs. We hold the inclinational power to say "yes" or "no" in thought and disposition if not in action. This power is what some parents find so exasperating about their strong-willed three-year-olds.

Words, ideas, and attitudes greatly influence our perception and thus have great power. The exercise of this power is characteristically beyond control of the will. Much going on within and beneath the mantles of thought and emotion are autonomous and have no easy levers of control. None of us dare assume we are immune to being played up on like an instrument – much like Iago played upon Othello. I am greatly affected by the attitude displayed in others. When someone has a good attitude, I find it almost impossible not to like them and tailor my reactions accordingly. If someone expresses an idea that arouses deep inner emotion within me, my "cool objectivity" flies out the window. The sword simply lacks the power to control perception as readily as words, ideas, and attitudes. In the short-term the sword can control actions. But brute reliance on force is a candle burning at both ends. Brute force is ghastly and haunted by its own inexorable mortality.

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