I cannot tell if words are powerful because of themselves, or because of their use. Children grab hold of words and wield them like swords too heavy to hold. Sometimes they wobble, struggling to lift the weight of “bad words” but trying to anyways, knowing that they are powerful. Sometimes they shout the words like gunshots: “No! No! No!” because it’s easy to shoot but harder to control. He doesn’t mean to say no, but the trigger was already pulled and the force of the powerful word won’t be stopped by logic or reason. No, he doesn’t want help. No, he isn’t tired. No, he can’t listen. No.
Is it powerful in his mouth? The power came from generations of humans before, passing along strength in a word to the mouth of a boy who can only speak a handful. He screams, “No.” It’s power is maintained because he believes in its strength, he feels it coursing through his veins as he shouts, “No.”
Working with children is how I witness and reflect upon the human world. What is our instinct? What is our purpose? Is there a purpose? More importantly, does it matter? Adults forget to forget. Let play reign. But I watch children wage war on each other and themselves, I watch children recognize power and greedily reach for it. I watch children formulate stories they present as fact. And I watch children cast others aside to make room for their own self-interest.
Angels. And demons. We must remember that none of us are purely good. Or purely bad. We are a collection of animal instinct and human nature. We give power to the things we hold, and we pass that power down to those who haven’t got it. Children do not give bad words their power, generations of adults have. But children recognize that power and grab onto it. We can pass power down. It is transferable. Words unlock emotions children can’t explain– uncertain, fearful, present, invigorated, satiated, on-edge, courageous, powerful.
But without us, what is a word? And why does it matter?