It was Edward George Bulwer-Lytton (1803-73) who wrote ‘Beneath the rule of men entirely great/The pen is mightier than the sword’. Words do indeed have an authority that can be used for good or for evil and they work a mysterious magic when manipulated by a master. I recently received a book from a lady named Annie Dale titled: ‘From the 26 Letters of The Alphabet’. Reading through this book made me ponder on the power that has been unleashed from just 26 letters A to Z. Think of the use of racist or religious terms used to incite hatred and violence against others of different persuasions or ethnic origins. Or consider the truth spoken from the innocent mouth of a young child. We all use words, be they spoken or written they help to create our reality and enable us to construct what we believe to be plans and possibilities. Within Annie’s book I found the following question: ‘If you could select just seven words to express the meaning of your life what would those words be?’ Here are some suggestions taken from Annie’s book:
LIVE. LOVE. ASPIRE. READ. SERVE. LAUGH. UNDERSTAND: Wonderful words, the most powerful of these is, in my mind, understand. Seeking understanding, as the late Lord Runcie Archbishop of Canterbury did throughout his life, is undoubtedly a worthy pursuit. However, true understanding can only come from the consideration of all viewpoints, as the Archbishop pointed out when he asked us to pray for the families of Argentine soldiers killed in the Falklands conflict. To understand a situation from one side only is not to understand it at all. I’m certain many of us will recall with horror the tabloid headline that followed the sinking of the Argentine ship The Belgrano: ‘GOTCHA!’ 900 young men died as they were sailing away from the scene of conflict and we are invited to applaud. Or the jingoistic gibberish spouted by the then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher as she condescendingly advised all to ‘Rejoice! Rejoice!’ when she declared that we had ‘won the war’. Words spoken in public by public figures such as Thatcher or Churchill often echo down the ages affecting all our lives. It is a great pity that those words are all too often associated with war, death and destruction.
THE QUALITY OF MERCY: From The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespere. Read by John.
Annie Dale: ‘Every word a man writes, every act in which he indulges, every word he utters, serves as inescapable evidence of the nature of that which is embedded in his heart’. In other words, by their fruit shall you know them. We are all aware of people who seem to bring a sense of joy into any human interaction. Good humour and a ready wit often help reduce tension in even the most difficult of situations. But not everyone has a sense of fun as I found out some years ago.
I think of the time I was working as a Hospital Officer inside the secure ward of H.M. Prison Manchester also known as Strangeways. The inmates on the ward included many that had committed terrible offences that would eventually lead to them serving life sentences. One patient had deliberately set alight to his own home in an attempt to convince the local council that their neighbours were persecuting his family. In the resulting fire his two daughters suffered 90% burns and subsequently died. I was caring for this socially inadequate and distraught individual when the Governor and his Chief Discipline Officer entered on a tour of inspection. Quite why I will perhaps never know but the Governor decided to inspect the ward floor and found there a slight residue of the fixative used to secure the tiles fitted some years previously. I was called away from my nursing duties and this was pointed out to me, I was asked to explain why it was still present. One can perhaps imagine that five-year old glue marks on the floor of a very busy prison hospital ward were not my top priority. So, I called for the inmate that cleaned the ward, introduced him by name and number to the most senior governor in the entire prison and left them to get on with it. The patients on the ward thought this hilarious but for some unknown reason the Governor and Chief Discipline Officer were not amused. I don’t work there any more.
Images of Strangeways Jail with the song BORSTAL BREAKOUT! by Sham 69.
In the year 1990 Strangeways jail in Manchester was almost totally destroyed by rioting inmates. Somewhere along the way to that destruction the prisoners had lost their ability to see the funny side of doing ‘porridge’ in a vindictive Victorian slum.
It is important to maintain a sense of humour in this life and the power of words help us to do just that. In Annie’s book she offers some wonderful advice ‘Memories and happenings we write in the book of life, each one a page or chapter printed on the mind. We cannot erase the sorrow or edit out the tears, or undo the wrongs we may have done. And we can never relive the years, but we can write new chapters in our book of life.’
As we go through our earthly lives how many of us must wish we could rewrite certain passages in our own book of life, we cannot. Indeed our personal destiny may already be written and our lives preordained. If this is so then how much more important it is to maintain a healthy perspective on life and proceed with grace and good humour. For myself I believe that we enjoy free will to explore the possibilities of this world and all that is within it. However the ultimate destiny of each and every one of us is surely known before our birth. We may be as Shakespeare said ‘But players on this great stage of fools’. If this is the case then I want to know who wrote my part!
Annie Dale includes in her book these gentle but powerful words: ‘Within the wealth of words lies dynamic power. Rich and poor alike may use this abundant ‘gold’ For in a word we may discover what Proverbs implies in ‘A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver’ Proverbs XXV XI.’ Written countless hundreds of years ago those words echo down the centuries creating positive images that live forever. Unlike the dark rumblings of war such words of love bring understanding and joy to our lives. It is for such beauty that we should all Rejoice! Rejoice! and not for the misguided mutterings of those who deal in death, destruction and authoritarian abuse.
You can write to Annie Dale Ph.D at ‘The Haven’ 5 Links Avenue, Mablethorpe, Lincs. LN12 10L Her book is available so if you do want a copy an appropriate donation would be appreciated I’m sure. Why not tell Annie your own seven words that define your life.