I believe in the word. I gave a lot—perhaps too much—thought to this sentence because I hoped to make it convey not only belief in the Word made Flesh but also belief in the power of words of breath and ink. Words can make present places that are far away, people who have died, or things that never existed. This is why literature exists, but it only scratches the surface of the word’s potential.
The Buddha is supposed to have said, “Words have the power to both destroy and heal. When words are both true and kind, they can change our world.”
My study of language and literature reinforces this belief in the word, but is not wholly responsible for it. The mastery of words was, and probably still is, a near obsession to my father (a chemistry Ph.D., if you are wondering), who provided an excellent example of using words well and worked to eradicate in his children sins of speech and writing such as a shrill voice, misused vocabulary or reckless exaggeration.
Dad would remind us that our words and how we use them create an impression in those who hear or read them, whether we like it or not. We cannot control that impression absolutely, but we have an obvious interest in controlling what we can.
The intimate relationship between a word and the one who speaks it no doubt suggested to John the Evangelist the idea of the Word as a metaphor for Christ. When we leave a room, our words remain, representing us to those who heard them. The written word, from a job application letter to an autobiography, represents the absent writer much more literally.
I believe we are all enhanced when words are used truthfully and respectfully. I believe we are all similarly diminished when words are used deliberately to hurt or mislead. I believe that one should use words thoughtfully, carefully and well. I cannot say I always succeed, but I believe it is worth the effort to try.
Dr. Douglas Boudreau is an Associate Professor of French and has been teaching at Mercyhurst since 2001. He is currently the director of the Mercyhurst Honors Program. His favorite aspect of Mercyhurst is the feeling of community that it affords for the whole campus.