“I am only one, but still I am one.
I cannot do everything, but still I can do something.
And because I cannot do everything,
I will not refuse to do the something I can do.”

Edward Everett Hale

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Time passes; listen: time passes

I have just been to the Unitarian General Assembly Annual Meetings, which this year were at Swansea University. The warmth of the welcome from the Welsh Unitarians will remain with me for a long time. And the setting was lovely - all we had to do to get to the beach was walk out of the front gate and cross the footbridge, which for someone who lives in rural Northamptonshire, just about as far away from the coast as you can get in England, was a delightful novelty.

One morning, I went for a run along the Prom Walk, which stretches for miles along Swansea's seafront. I was just about to turn back when I saw a sign for "Mumbles" and knew that I was in Dylan Thomas country. My parents had the original Argo recording of Under Milk Wood, starring Richard Burton and a very distinguished all-Welsh cast, and I have recently managed to get a copy of it on CD. Thomas was one of the people long years ago who taught me to love words, and to marvel at their ability to move human minds and hearts. I used to have the opening speech of the First Voice by heart - it is mesmerising in its hypnotic beauty and vividness, brought to life by Richard Burton's wonderful frayed-velvet voice.

Words have so much power, especially in conjunction with the human voice. They can be used to encourage, sustain, energise and uplift; or they can be used to arouse hatred, bitterness, despair and all other kinds of bad feelings. On the one side, look at someone like Martin Luther King and his "I have a dream" speech. On the other, turn on any documentary about World War II, and listen to Hitler mesmerising his German subjects into going along with policies of vengeful genocide.

Words have so much power. With one word of praise or blame, one human being can build another one up, or fling him or her into the pit of despair. The human memory has an uncanny knack of remembering words spoken in anger or despite, which can cause people with fragile self-esteem (that is to say, all of us, deep down) to think badly of themselves; whereas words of praise may be shrugged off. How many times have you heard an actor or singer say that they only remember what is said in the bad reviews, even if those are out-numbered ten times by positive ones?

Words have so much power. We all have the responsibility to use them wisely and well.

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