Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Selectively choosing which words lead to action

Most of us like to believe that the words of our leaders can inspire us to put aside our self-interest to act responsibly, even heroically.

Yes, we remember: Jan. 20, 1961: “My fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country.” How many young Americans joined the Peace Corps, in some part due to hearing those words?

We remember: June 12, 1987: “Tear down this wall!” Didn’t those words turn into action?

Of course, for most readers I don’t have to say who uttered those words. Readers already know both quotations quite well. Or, at least I sure as hell hope they do.

However, now some of us like to believe our leaders’ words can only inspire us to do good things. At least, in the midst of the national public debate about deliberately heated political rhetoric, some of us say that’s what we believe.

According to that line of thought all the provocative angry words flung back and forth by shoot-from-the-hip politicians in recent years could not contribute to violence. Then again, I've heard fools say that advertising and political spin never influences them. That popular culture doesn't influence people, etc.


Update: Meanwhile, baffling words -- Sarah Palin's "blood libel" -- can drive us to wonder what in the world the speaker could have meant -- click here.

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