“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” -Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
The events in Charlottesville and the subsequent “free speech” protests and counter-protests have made me both very angry and very pensive. I understand that our country was built upon free speech. I am a huge supporter of that foundation and also know how crucial it is to society at large. But I can’t get past the fact that anyone would actually want to use that freedom for such hatred. I also can’t believe that our president wouldn’t immediately condemn it. Of course, it should not be surprising. On the day he was elected President, I could not fathom how someone who had clearly voiced such ignorance and hatred could actually be elected to lead this country. I have such a respect for that office and a tremendous respect for good, strong, thoughtful leadership as a whole. Thinking incessantly about both of these tragic events has brought me back to one crucial tenet of great leadership:
As someone who loves to write, “words matter” is quite obvious. But the greatest leaders of our time have always been able to craft speeches that inspire the rest of us to act for the good of humanity. Unfortunately, the most vicious leaders in history have also been able to use their words to instigate horrifying acts of violence. The most horrid leaders in world history knew that when their audience was downtrodden and had lost complete hope in their futures that the time was right to strike. On top of that opportunity, their messages resonated with people who had no educational background in the woeful mistakes of history or the importance of empathy in social interactions. The maelstrom that resulted gave those monsters unprecedented opportunity to take power and spawn evil.
We must ask ourselves as thoughtful, educated human beings, what beliefs are behind spoken words? What intent is behind those phrases? What will people bring about as people gather around them to listen. If someone is charismatic and well presented, people will often ultimately want to hear what they have to say. But someone’s ability to twist words and concepts into a web of future tragedy is exactly what we must fight. Group think is a powerful tool. And group think is manipulated by crafty speech. As someone with a background of driving revenue, I’m the first to admit that any concept can be spun in a way which only behooves the spinner.
All of us, as human beings, need to realize that we should choose our words wisely, whether we are in the simplest of conversations or the grandest of public dissertations. We need to take the power of words very seriously, and use them for good, not evil. And when evil springs up amongst us, we must use our power of speech to denounce it. Our future, our children, our society and our freedom are all dependent upon it. I am forever grateful to all the keen ears of history who listened and were able to hear evil in the most beautiful of sonnets. Those heroes subsequently used their voices to carry eloquent speeches that drove good to ultimately prevail. We must all use our voices now as silence is perhaps the worst word of all.