The pen is mightier than the sword, as the saying goes (especially if it’s long and very pointy, as some comedians might say). But what does this really mean?
With the election of Donald Trump in 2016 as the 45th President of the USA, we have witnessed the rise of social media as the ‘virtual’ pen of the masses. When Guttenberg invented the printing press, the power of the written word reached the masses. With the invention of the internet, the pen is no longer something confined to physical reality, and that means it’s power has not just multiplied—it’s skyrocketed.
The word ‘post-truth’ was voted Word of 2016 by Oxford Dictionaries, and it means “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief”. Donald Trump’s election showed us just what can be achieved with the virtual pen.
This, however, is nothing new. Recall when emails first became popular two decades ago. Many people got into a world of trouble when they sent an email that was written in jest but was taken the wrong way by the recipient of the email. The tone of the message gets lost in the translation sometimes – written words become more serious and literal than their spoken counterparts.
As writers – and we’re all writers, even in emails and social media – we must be aware of the power of the written word, the power for both good and bad. The power to inspire, to hurt, to motivate, to demean, to share ideas, to manipulate for our own purposes.
The spoken word has power too, but its potency is amplified when it’s put down on paper, when it’s written down and ‘published’. Something happens when a word is written, as if somehow it’s made more ‘real’.
It’s therefore our duty as writers to understand this power of the pen – either virtual or real – and be responsible for what we write. The freedom granted to us when we get our driver’s license demands great responsibility for its use – responsibility to take care of our passengers and of other drivers on the road lest we cause damage and hurt.
Likewise, our wonderful freedom of speech given to us in Western society demands responsibility for its use, lest we too cause damage and hurt.
The choice, as writers, is ours to make. So, whether we write for fun, for a living, or to express an opinion in social media, let’s choose our words carefully when we write.
Because words, especially the written word, have more power than we might think or expect.
*This article first appeared on ContentPlexus.com and is re-published with permission.
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