Words are not necessary to existence. Everything that exists lives, produces offspring, and passes on without ever saying or comprehending a word – that is with the exception of humans, us, the word-bearers, the keepers of spoken language, and we humans thrive on spoken and written words, all of which are unnecessary for survival in the strictest sense, the sense which all other organisms progress and fade away.
One day, in Intro to Philosophy, the professor presented a puzzle on the necessity of a conscious mind – this puzzle dealt with the pondering that conscious awareness may be unnecessary. In the puzzle was presented the case of a condition that robs a person of awareness of anything to one side; let’s say the right. Everything on the left can be seen, comprehended and understood consciously, as most people can, but there is no conscious awareness of anything to the right. A study was done where several specimens with this condition were shone images of two houses which were identical on the left. On the right, however, one was on fire.
In the study, my professor told us, each of the specimens chose the house which was not on fire, thus supporting the notion that a conscious mind is not necessary for survival. Although those who participated in this test were completely unaware that one house was burning down, they understood instinctually that one house presented danger and the other did not.
Regardless of whether conscious awareness of our surroundings is necessary to life, it is fairly obvious that body language is still a more basic, fundamental form of communication than words. Actions speak louder than words is a string of verbiage many of us have heard. It is clear that a person is enraged or caring when looking solely at his actions. Even tone of voice carries more primal meaning compared to words. When speaking to a pet dog, for instance, the most agonizing words, when said in a happy or gentle tone, will only convey happiness and gentleness, or the most loving words in an angry tone will show anger over the words’ definitions. Images, too, are more basic and easily understood than words – a young toddler can understand the meaning of pictures long before she can fully articulate, and certainly before she can read; and traffic signs depend at times solely on shape and image, few even containing words.
Although words may not be necessary on a fundamental level, they somehow hold the key to civilization – it is due to words that concepts like past, present, and future exist, as well as love, truth, faith, beauty; ideals – not all spoken languages contain these concepts. Culture would not exist without spoken language, and it is interesting to reflect, that in Western Culture, those who are high in society go to operas, plays, orations. Words, all words.
Words in themselves seem to hold a sort of fantasy about them, surrealism even. Written pieces, even spoken pieces are constructed. They are like a mystical link between subconscious instinct and conscious awareness of the world, of the divine. The art of rhetoric, whether poorly or skillfully put to use, is the height and limit of the power possessed by words. Somehow, though, words transcend, even the constraints of rhetoric – God the Son holds the title: The Word.
Words lead to life and lead to death – pain, amusement, the realization of love. It is due to words and not actions, tone of voice or instinct that a woman I know remained with her abusive, alcoholic husband for years. Words have the power to create and destroy. How many cities have risen due to words, and wars raged due to words? That is a magnificent level of power packed into a few abstract vowels and consonants arranged into place.
This post is part of an Orthodox synchroblog, that is, a number of Orthodox Christian bloggers have written blog posts on the same general topic on the same day, with links to the other posts on the same topic, so it should be possible to surf from one post to the other, and read them all if one wants to.
The theme of this month’s synchroblog is “The words we use.” This blog is part of the Orthobloggers Synchroblog for July 1, 2012. Other blog sites participating in this theme:
* Bev. Cook (Orthodox Christian) of Bevnal Abbey Scriptorium on “Words and Their Use”
* Cristina Perdomo (Orthodox Christian) of Reachingfromadistance on “Cement”
* Dn Stephen Hayes (Orthodox Christian) of Khanya on “What’s that you were saying?”
* Susan Cushman (Orthodox Christian) of Pen & Palette on “How We Use Our Words: “Christian” is Not an Adjective”
* Katherine Bolger Hyde (Orthodox Christian) of God Haunted Fiction on “Eat Your Words”
* Annalisa Boyd (Orthodox Christian) of The Ascetic Lives of Mothers on “The Words of My Mouth”
* Elizabeth Perdomo (Orthodox Christian) of Living a Liturgical Life on “What About Words?”
* Fr John D’Alton (Orthodox Christian) of Fr John D’Alton on “How we use our words- jihad or struggle?”
* Jane Myer (Orthodox Christian) of The Sounding on “Dear Critical Self”
* Claire Brandenburg (Orthodox Christian) of Holy Watchfulness on “The Word”
* Donna Farley (Orthodox Christian) of The Rafters Scriptorium on “Few and True”
* Fr. Lawrence Farley (Orthodox Christian) of Straight from the Heart on “The Limits of Verbal Communication: Part of a Conversation”