It should come as not surprise that these were the words spoken by a great public speaker: “Words Do Inspire.” Words, as I mentioned in a previous post, are an inexhaustible resource. They can be used and reused countless times in countless many ways and never get old from overuse. Words like “I”, “the”, “as”, and the like are even less like inexhaustible and more like eternal. Yet, the question today regards what exactly it is that makes a word truly inspiring. Is it the context or can a word on its own, regardless of context, be innately inspiring? Similarly, if a phrase is inspiring then where does the inspiration lie within that phrase? I hope we can look at some of the greatest orators of our time and procure our own answers to these questions.
By this point, surely you, the reader, have already begun to form words in your head that are inspiring to you in particular. These words may include but not be limited to examples such as “Glory”, “Endurance”, “Champion”, “Best”, “Teamwork”, or “Victory” which all invoke a sports-like feeling, recalling images of the Olympics or the World Cup. Others of you may conjure up words such as “Positivity”, “Patience”, “Honesty”, “Happiness”, or “Smile”, of which all concern your own personality rather than a distant goal. Still other readers may be thinking now of words like “God”, “Heaven”, or “Blessed” which are clearly more spiritual in nature and thus draw inspiration from beyond—rather than from within—oneself. Each person is unique.
No matter what the word, however, there is something that each of them share. An inspiring word—that is to say a word that can inspire people on its own—must evoke in the heart both a memory and a conviction. To illustrate consider Lance Armstrong. Though not one of the great orators that I hope to cite, to many, there is no better role model for determination and the usurpation of obstacles than he. To live life like Lance Armstrong would be a life well and fully lived, without question! So what do ordinary people like you and I do to remind ourselves to live like Lance? We wear bracelets! Not just any bracelets mind you, bracelets with the word “LIVESTRONG” on them.
Now, debates on whether or not this is in fact a single word aside, this word does exactly what a good inspiring word should do: evoke in the heart both a memory and a conviction. When this word is spoken or heard it evokes the memory of Lance Armstrong and his weakness, struggle, and eventual grand triumph over all odds. We recall the many races won and the many voices that had said it couldn’t be done and we are inspired. Then, completing itself as an inspiring word, LIVESTRONG evokes in the heart a conviction. A conviction, that is, that we too can overcome such adversity, that we too can get through our struggles, and that we too will have our glory day. Memory-led conviction.
Every other inspiring word holds these same basic principles! Words that create in our mind a sports image and a final redemption all evoke memories of a time when we thought our favorite team was up against the odds in the face of a great challenger but came out victorious (Hockey: USA vs. USSR). Such images solidify our conviction to strive be worthy of such teams. Words like “Happiness” or “Honesty” or any other word about the personality function in the same way: Memory recalls the image of a person we know with such traits and from such memories we solidify our own goals. Words of spiritual significance paint pictures of peace, memories of scripture can settle the soul and we solidify our conviction to remain faithful and devout. In fact, ANY word can be inspiring if it fulfils those two prerequisites. The word “Fear” for example may not be particularly inspiring to you but to Will Smith it is his catalyst for fearlessness and his primary driver behind living life to its fullest every day. (see his inspiring video here)
“I’m motivated by fear…the fear of fear. I hate being scared of doing something. I think what developed in my early days was the attitude that… I started attacking things that I was afraid of.”
Now consider words like “smell”, “rose”, “other”, “by”, and “name”. It is safe to assume that none of these words, least of all words like “other” and “by” create any such inspiring image that leads to the formation of a conviction in our heart. Yet when these words are used in a phrase they take on a much grander form and call to mind much more than simply roses:
“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”
The phrase now, beyond the beauty of the images of nature and rose fields, strikes a philosophical chord and taps into our memory bank and Romeo and Juliet and all that is known of the word mastermind William Shakespeare. The meaning and inspiration becomes much deeper! Yet, where does the inspiration lie? If each part of the phrase must be in place for the sentence to function as perfectly as it does, is each word just as inspiring as the next or do we focus on a specific word or two in the phrase? Words like “name” and “rose” are like puppets without strings when they are without “What’s in a…” and “That which we call a…” but are not the puppets more beautiful than the strings? Are not the strings more useful than the puppets?
Inspiring words reach their zenith of inspiration when they have been carefully crafted and inserted into the most charming of phrases; there is no higher point at which they procure more emotion or depth of thought. While, on the other hand, lost is the inspiration from words that have been extracted from a beautiful poem. Inspiration can come from words alone, but words in the context of higher thought fly to a level of inspiration (memory-led conviction) that was previously unattainable.
To conclude, consider the massive effect that words had on Barack Obama’s campaign trail. An acquaintance of mine told me that the first time she heard Barack Obama speak she knew that he was going to make a difference. She had never met him before nor did he ever do anything personally for her and yet his words alone were enough for her to feel so moved and inspired to tell others about him. Many have said that he is one of the most gifted orators of our time so what does he use to inspire others: words or phrases? When you think of the word “Change” do you think of President Obama? What about phrases? The title of this article, “Words Do Inspire”, is one such phrase that he used in 2007 in Des Moines.
In either case, there is something about words, utterances of sound, that inexhaustible resource, that leads people to be better than they are now, to reach higher than they thought they could. This aspect of language alone, its ability to inspire people to be better, is inspiring to me!
What words give you memory-led conviction? Also, do you think similarities exist between inspiring words across different languages or does each language posses its own unique set? I look forward to your response.