“Words are more treacherous and powerful than we think.” Evaluate the extent to which the characteristics Sartre claims for words affect – negatively and positively – different Areas of Knowledge
Words are part of language. They are a main part of how we communicate in the world today, and therefore are probably the most important things in society today. Words are more treacherous and powerful than we think according to Sartre, but how are we affected by this?
Words are powerful in many ways. Words, when used to communicate between people, can build immense civilisations, because words used as a part of language can create a “shared truth” or a universally accepted truth. One individual may have as many brilliant ideas as he wants, but without others knowing there is no use in this anyway. This is why words are so important. We can say that without words there is no communication. Without communication there is no organisation, which would make a modern society as we know it today impossible, because society all depends upon organisation. Words, and language in general, have the ability to create society but also have the ability to destroy it. This is shown in the quote:
“The word is the most powerful tool you have as a human… But like a sword with two edges, your word can create the most beautiful dream, or your word can destroy everything around you”.
He says that the word is the most powerful tool you have as a human. With this tool you can also make people feel good or even hurt people. Don Miguel Ruiz continues his quote as follows:
“One edge is the misuse of the word, which creates a living hell.”
An example of misuse of the word could be gossip. Gossip is very powerful, and does not only hurt the person who is the object of it, but can also hurt the person who is told the gossip. There is a modern day example that can be used to illustrate this effect. If there is a girl who hears negative gossip about a boy who she is dating, this hurts not only the boy, but also the girl. This can create a “living hell” for the people involved, because they might be ashamed or embarrassed of what is being said about them.
Don Miguel Ruiz’s view strongly contradicts the saying that actions speak louder than words. This implies that actions are more powerful than words. But are not actions based on words as well? If an action “speaks” louder, this means that it has a definite meaning just like a sentence. For actions that do not have a definite meaning (do not involve speaking) we need to make a rational assumption of what the action means. This assumption will be made by looking at past experiences, through ways of knowing, and looking at areas of knowledge.
An example which might show that actions are more important than words is when you are first meeting some one. Some one who you meet for the first time will judge you by your actions. Some actions that they could interpret are handshakes, your posture, eye contact, and gestures you make with your hands.2 Many of these actions can be interpreted to tell what kind of a person you are. This does not mean that gestures can not be misinterpreted. There can be a lot of different interpretations of gestures, especially once you enter other cultures.
There was a little misunderstanding during Deaf Way, which is an event large groups of deaf people from of nationalities come together, in Washington D.C. a few years ago. An ASL (American Sign Language) deaf American was having an animated conversation with a FSL (French Sign Language) Deaf French woman. They claimed that they understood each other and did not need a sign language translator/interpreter, but when an actual interpreter who knew both ASL and FSL interpreted the conversation, it seemed that the American said that they were talking about skiing and that they both agreed that it was better and much more fun in Europe than in America whilst the ASL sign for ski is the same sign for “sexual intercourse” in FSL and some other European Sign Languages.3 This shows the point that languages (or gestures) which are the same may still mean something else even though you think they mean the same.
In any language, words will be treacherous or misleading. It’s amazing how placing a simple word or two in the wrong spot can convey a completely different meaning than intended. One little mistake here, another one over there, and you can find yourself in a colossal misunderstanding. As a matter of fact, even perfectly ordered words can carry sneaky double meanings that can get you into a lot of trouble. If there are errors in language, there will be errors in knowledge, because language is often called upon as a way of knowing.
Words do not always have the same meaning.
Every concept originates through our equating what is unequal. No leaf ever wholly equals another, and the concept ‘leaf’ is formed through an arbitrary abstraction from they individual differences, through forgetting the distinctions.
If we take this further, it is saying that it is easy for someone to be tricked into believing that there is a shared truth. To use a simples example: Mr. Glynn is unhappy and so is Arpit. Therefore they both have the same feeling and share the same truth. According to Nietzsche this is wrong. In this case, both people who are unhappy will be experiencing unhappiness in a unique way. Nietzsche uses the example of a leaf, because not two leaves are the same.
Language is filled with possible misunderstandings and misleading. Because words are such a powerful tool in society today, it is also a great danger. If there is only a small misleading, the outcome of this can be disasterous.