‘The pen is mightier than the sword.’ Can written language really be so powerful?

 

YES: When properly conceptualized or delivered, written language helps us achieve success in many areas of human endeavor.

  1. Written language and its precise wording in many important documents, such as a country’s national constitution, are the basis of legitimacy for many of our public institutions.  

  2.     Our most cherished literary works are formed through the aesthetic and intellectual use of written language, reflecting both our cultural accomplishments as a society and the inspiration which future generations of writers can draw upon to scale the ever greater heights of human genius. 

  3. For better or worse, the written works of respected leaders are often referenced and used by others as both advice and practical manuals for policy and decision-making, leading to great changes in societal conditions and developments.

  4. The basis of many great religious traditions and teachings are found in a written text, such as the Bible, Qur’an or Buddhist scriptures, profoundly informing and shaping their followers’ moral identity, character and interactions with humanity.

 

NO: Written language may be powerful on its own but its success in many areas of human endeavor are overshadowed or dependent on the use of force or other developments.

  1. The legitimacy conferred on institutions by written documents can be overwhelmed by the overt use of force by illegitimate institutions, such as a dictator’s military forces.

  2. The influence of even the most accomplished literary work can be diminished by counter-trends, such as popular culture, which shift the masses’ attention and respect for it to other less inspiring or intellectually engaging material.

  3. Many literary works of great merit may be highly entertaining, visionary and even reflective of major societal concerns but do not usually succeed in getting readers to engage in revolutionary social change, as we prefer to just read them for leisure rather than inspiration.  

  4. We may want to act upon the words of respected leaders to affect political or social transformations but our degree of success, or lack thereof, is highly dependent upon other tangible resources at our disposal, such as funding, followers and political influence.

  5. Many moral and ethical guidelines that religious writings express are often ignored by professed believers, who may be driven by other incentives or motivations, thereby blunting their overall influence on human behavior.