I believe in the power of words.
Because when we do not speak, when words are stuck in our throat with nowhere to go- we choke.
It is in the choking silence that we are bound to endure, to suffer, to be oppressed. It is this silence that fuels the oppressors, the tyrants, the dictators, with the sense of supremacy to do as they please.
If we do not utter a word: they will utter them for us.
If we do not revolt: they will continue to attack.
If we do not speak: our tongues will eventually lose the ability to do so.
Therefore, I believe words must be chosen with great discretion and purpose. They must not spew from mouths like shards of glass, stab with the sharpness of knives, nor hurt like bullets to the head. But, if someone does spew, or stab, or intend to hurt, I believe in ensuring silence is not maintained. Regardless of whether or not I am affected, I believe in ceasing to be an apathetic, ignorant bystander. The power of the words I choose to speak, and the power of when a collective speaks these words together, is much more fervent than any violent injustices and atrocities committed.
Throughout school, I have been taught how to deal with bullies. There would be an annual assembly in elementary and junior high where we would learn tactics like “tell an adult,” or “stand up to the bully.” Never was I told to observe quietly if I saw someone being bullied: to ignore the situation or walk away from it. I was taught that acting weakly, as if I would not challenge what they were doing, would only serve as encouragement for the bully’s behaviour; it would only feed their appetite for authority. Always, I was encouraged to speak up, stand tall, and be strong.
I have no doubt everyone else was taught the same. So now, when bullies have risen to power as leaders of countries and as tormentors of the innocent, I believe it is more vital than ever for us to implement those lessons and not disregard the power our words have to stop ruthless, inhumane behaviour. If the victims remain quiet, that is due to forced compliance. If the world remains quiet, that is a form of voluntary compliance.
We must not be a part of this abusive cycle. We must be articulate and not stoop to the level of such bullies: act or bash them incessantly like they do to us– with no purpose or cause. But instead speak up, stand tall, and be strong. I believe we must make them see the grandeur that exists in unity, in freedom, and in love. The desire of all humans to possess these elements subsists in each of our heads, but our zeal for them can only be conveyed through words. I believe we must be eloquent and composed as we speak, we must be willing to listen, but also willing to reply with fierce words that penetrate minds and open eyes.
I believe that is the way to free those who have been shackled by racism, greed, brutality, or just blind inhumanity. Like the many Syrian men and women who attempt to run away from terror only to be told there is no room for them elsewhere.
I believe in the power of resolute words that can break chains and unlock compassion. Like Malala Yousafzai’s, who gained the solicitude and support of the world by her passionate account of her pure struggle to be educated.
The kind of words that can mend broken hearts and diminished spirits.
That can make a stranger feel like a friend.
That can make love blossom and hatred wither.
I believe power must be reinforced in the words of the people, not in those of inept leaders. We must continue to shout against tyrannical silence: march like we did in Washington to honour human dignity this January, or march like we did for jobs and freedom in 1963.
So that when there is someone in the world who cannot speak, who is not given such a powerful freedom, we can be their voice.
So that we can finally keep our promise of “never again.”