The Power of Words: 'The Pen is Mightier than the Sword'
What's in a Phrase?
Some phrases last the test of time, and when uttered, they remind us of fundamental truths or pieces of wisdom about life. Words survive long after battles, empires, and leaders have passed and seen their glory fade. In many ways the power of words hold a special place in history for eliciting change, albeit both good and bad; the power of the pen can not be underestimated.
One such phrase "the pen is mightier than the sword" originates from Richelieu, a historical play published in 1839, set during the reign of King Louis XIII based on a cardinal who shaped French history. The line comes from a scene where Richelieu discovers a plot to murder him, yet due to his position, he is unable to act directly against his enemies. In Act II, scene II of the play, Richellieu's Page reminds him that he has access to other means to destroy his enemies, among them the ability to act with his pen, alluding to other types of power that are perhaps greater.
Richellieu is a controversial figure in French history. He is often portrayed as a villain figure in literature, including the Three Musketeers, as he was the Chief minister of Louis XIII, whose authoritarian measures paved the way to an absolute monarchy in France, and could be said to have caused the suffering of many people, ulitimately leading to the French Revolution (Wikipedia 2018). For more about him see Richelieu. by Richard Lodge, 1908).
The Power of Words
Reading about the history of this quote, made me reflect on a power we often take for granted: the power of the written word. It reminds me of my great-grandmother's desire to learn to read and write. Angela Fernandez was raised in Cuba in the 1920's and 30's. Mima, as we grew to call her, often told me stories about her childhood. The story that stood out the most to me, was of how she had to beg her father to send her to school, as she told me the norm was only to send the boys and have the girls stay home to help with the household. Mima detailed a story to me where her relative had received a letter from someone far from home, but she could not read it. Her relative cried when someone read the letter aloud to her, but she had to wait for someone to come read it to her. My great-grandmother told me that that day she vowed to herself, to learn to read and write. Mima explained that she went to her father and asked for three things: A pencil, notebook, and the ability to attend school. As she grew older, I remember the pride she took in writing letters, at times writing opinions to her favorite Latina TV host, Cristina, and other times sending letters to her relatives back to Cuba. She kept the Christmas card she received as a reply from Cristina in her scrapbook for many years.
Since then, I researched her story and found this about the historical reference to her story about the education of girls in Cuba. I found an article in 'The Atlantic', "How Education Shaped Communist Cuba," which illuminated the historical framework of her story.
From a very young age, I began to see the ability to write as this huge gift, thanks to my great grandmother. It was this story that served as a great impetus for me to chose to attend an ivy league, and Mima, lived to see this accomplishment. She often wrote me letters while I attended Cornell, reminding me of why I needed to stay the course in college and how proud she was that I was pursuing my dreams.
The Pen is Mightier than the Sword:
POWER OF WORDS CHALLENGE
It is with great purpose and passion that I propose this challenge today: I have included a graphic you can share on social media to spread this challenge.
1. Never again underestimate the power of your voice.
2. Take on the responsibility that comes with the ability to read and write, for those who can not do the same.
3. Write a letter- a letter with purpose - the letter you have been meaning to write - to impact some type of social change - related any issue that moves your heart-and send it.
4. I ask that you ask 5 of your closest friends on social media or by letter to do the same. Ask them to write a letter eliciting a change in an area that they deeply care abouT and send it to the appropriate parties.
5. In return, I ask that you send your friend an inspiration quote that reminds you of that person.
I have included a graphic (to the below) you may share on social media to ask others to participate in this challenge.
I leave you with a quote. I hope that the words on this page, move you to see your own strength and act on the power of the words. Words can change history. Words stand the test of time, and they can be the greatest catalysts of change. Whether they receive a reply or not, words will always remain. Their very existence is a historical record and proof that our lives have impact beyond our existence on earth. Mima would be proud.