“I still believe in man in spite of man. I believe in language even though it has been wounded, deformed, and perverted by the enemies of mankind. And I continue to cling to words because it is up to us to transform them into instruments of comprehension rather than contempt. It is up to us to choose whether we wish to use them to curse or to heal, to wound or to console.”
― Elie Wiesel, Open Heart
1986 Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel (1928 – 2016) was an Auschwitz survivor with an awesome gift for words – and a willingness to use them in the pursuit of peace by understanding the lessons of the past. As a post-war baby boomer, the shadow of the Holocaust was as much a part of my life as the ever-present threat of nuclear obliteration, and the Cold War. Wiesel’s writing, like Victor Frankl’s, was an important part of understanding that past for me. It was part of what became my belief in the power of education. And in the need to not forget the lessons of the past. And, crucially, in the power, and importance, of words. And to not remain silent: “There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.”
Words matter, and words have both the power to hurt, and the power to help. And, as Wiesel did, I still believe in the power of words – even when it sometimes feels like no one is listening.
Picture of I-40 heading east somewhere near Gallup, New Mexico, August 2013