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The Strength of Words

The Strength of Words

We have all heard the expression “the pen is mightier than the sword.” That is true unless you have malevolent soldiers shooting at you and artillery shells exploding in your face. How strong are our words in preventing the many murderous rampages we inflict upon ourselves? Apparently not strong enough, at least not so far in our war plagued human history. Anthropologists tell us we started fighting each other early, and we are still at it today.

All of the philosophies we have ever espoused, all of the religions we have ever invented, all of the governments we have ever established, and all of the words we have uttered in the last one hundred thousand years of becoming civilized humans did not prevent Vladimir Putin and his Russian sycophants from invading Ukraine and causing the deaths of thousands of people. And that is only one of many murderous conflicts going on around the world at this time. We love our words, but are they able to save us from the worst of ourselves?

While Earth’s other species are still subject to the limitations of instinctual behavior, humans have developed an intelligence far beyond dolphins, chimpanzees, and other animals we consider the most intelligent, that is, the ones that seem to think and behave the most like us. But it is our words and our ability to preserve them in various forms of media and pass them on to future generations that make us different from anything that has ever existed on Earth, or that we know of for several light years beyond our planet.

We love the words in the plays of Shakespeare, the poems of Wordsworth, and the explanations from our scientists and philosophers as to how we came to be and how we function as living entities. But do we have words to convince Xi Jinping that China is doing fine on its own and he does not need to cause the deaths of thousands of people by invading Taiwan? His words and China’s belligerent taunting are creating chaos where there does not need to be any chaos. Could we perhaps liken Xi Jinping to a fox in a chicken house?


Our vocabulary naturally grows as our human cultures change. For example, in the early days of scientific discovery, such words as electromagnetism, computer chip, or stellar nucleosynthesis did not exist. We coined them to fit particular needs or fields of study. Today we need to come up with strong new words to help us express the fact that we must stop our murderous crime and wars.

The challenge is great. It seems to be much easier to come up with words to define technological advances than to find words to express the level of fear and belligerence that drives some of us to commit violent acts whether on a street corner or across a national border. It is easier to name a complex chemical process in the brain than to explain how and why it happens.

One strength of our words is how they move our emotions and move us to action. Depending on how we use them, they can inspire us to create rocket ships that carry us into space, or create emotions that make us laugh or cry. They can bring back to us good memories or bad ones. Unfortunately, our words when used by ruthless dictators, can also be twisted around to justify crime, war, and the killing of our fellow humans. When it comes to war and human conflict, do our words and our good intentions fail us?

As they move us to love a person, a cause, or a nation, they can just as easily drive us to hate someone or a group of people. As stoic or unemotional as some of us try to be, it is hard to ignore the profound positive and negative effects of words on us.

Ever since we began to turn our grunts and squeaks into meaningful utterances, we have loved words. There is very little human communication without them except for our shrugs and facial expressions. Certainly, without them we would not have built our global civilization. Even when we do not say words, they are implied. Regardless of the language we speak, words are constantly in our brains guiding our thoughts and motivating us to do good or evil.

However, in spite of their strength, words can be weak and let us down sometimes. Words are our conveyors of information, and all of us want to inform and to be informed. Depending on the circumstances, we often want every word that we utter in a conversation or speech, that we write in an article or essay or book to be so profound and meaningful it will change someone’s action or outlook on life. But sometimes we don’t say exactly what we mean or our words are misinterpreted by the hearer. If our words are to be persuasive, they must be chosen carefully.


Regardless of someone’s culture or language, a study of comparative mythology shows that all humans evolved to have the same basic needs and emotions and uttered the same expressions. Through the challenges of natural selection all of us everywhere evolved to need food, clothing, shelter, and security, all of which required a level of communication with each other. We learned words for war and killing as well as words for peace and caring. We evolved communicating our needs and desires, and nothing has changed except the number of languages around the world and new words we have come up with.

As we began using primitive language, it became important to express to each other concepts that expressed our emotions. It seems that our oldest emotion is fear, an emotion that goes back millions of years in the evolution of life to when phagocytes began to ingest other cells. We do not think of individual cells as having emotion, but when individual cells joined into multi-celled plants and animals, the concept of fear began to be experienced. It has evolved to be not only our oldest emotion, but probably the strongest and most ubiquitous as well. Some of us might not express love, but all of us at times show fear.

It has been shown that even plants experience a type of fear when they are attacked by insects and send out a type of chemical signal. If a leaf is bitten by a caterpillar, for example, a signal is sent to other parts of the plant to start making defensive chemicals to ward off the intruder. Trees are able to send out chemical distress signals through an underground fungal network to other trees when they are attacked by insects or a chain saw.

For thousands of years, as we evolved through natural selection, we had to be cautious and defensive. We developed words that expressed danger and how to cope with it by either fleeing or fighting. Life was harsh and dangerous in our formative years. We had predatory animals and rival tribes to contend with. Fear helped us be cautious and safe. It also helped us develop the concept of nurturing those who were experiencing fear, especially the very young and the elderly. Every emotion called for adding new words to our vocabulary.


When some of us developed the skills needed to make tools from stones and bones, we had to communicate that skill to others. In that way hunting and warfare aided in the development of language by leading to the creation of words for geography, geology, and technical communication. A person had to go to a particular place in order to find the right kind of stone and then fashion it with other stones. The tool maker then had to describe to someone how to hold the stone just right for cutting something or how to attach it to a stick for chopping a tree or throwing at an animal. We became skilled knappers of flint and other hard stones and used language to describe the skill to others.

In a hunter-gatherer community it is generally the most fit men and women who go out to hunt for food or fight enemies. These men and women come home not only with the spoils of their encounters, but sometimes with battle scars such as cuts and bruises or broken bones. So, we have developed words that express both the concept of the hero in order to thank and glorify those who bravely fight the enemy, and just as importantly, we have formulated words that express empathy and caring for the injured. Early in our history, the healers became as important to the well-being of a community as the warriors.

By the time we began to settle into cooperative communities and the threat of predatory animals was diminishing but threat of other people was rising, the idea of the hero who risked his or her life for the well-being of the community was firmly established in our psyche and reflected in the words we used. So, as we began to fight each other over such things as resources and hunting territory, those who fought the warriors of other communities were lauded as heroes. Our words praised their skill and bravery. Over the years, elaborate uniforms were designed for them to wear. Titles and honors were bestowed upon them. Military heroes became national leaders. Our words of praise for our warriors have followed our march of civilization right down to today.

We continue to revere our military heroes because we, unfortunately, continue to fight wars. It is appropriate that these men and women should be honored for risking their lives for their nation. But given our many centuries of witnessing the death and destruction caused by wars, one wonders why we have not been able to come up with words strong enough to solve our diplomatic problems.

We still find it necessary to send men and women into life-threatening situations to fight those who would destroy our nation. Our challenge is to invent words that will cause even the most biased hearer to react positively to words of peace and understanding. Will the expression ‘to care’ ever be as strong as ‘to kill’? it seems that the idea of fighting wars in some countries has gotten so bad that their military motto could be ‘put on a fancy uniform and hate somebody’.

Sometimes words show our weakness. We humans are stuck in a morass of aggressive behavior that thoughtful people know is stupid and wrong, but so far, we have not been able to talk our way out of it. We talk and write volumes about trying to prevent mindless conflict, but our words seem to have little effect as far as determining a long- term solution to our age-old problem. As our population grows, and the volumes of words we write and speak rise exponentially, so do the number of conflicts, large and small, that go on every day. Our words have not proven strong enough to overcome the emotions that lead to conflicts.

So, we must ask ourselves that when it comes to getting our aggressive tendencies under control, how many of our words, our statements, or our many utterances are powerful enough to overcome thousands of years of cultural influence? Even undisputed evidence and expressive words are not enough to move some people beyond deeply rooted biases and beliefs. We humans can be a hardheaded, narrow minded species at times.


Part of our human relations problem is that words are often not as strong and motivating as negative emotions. If one of us, as an individual, as a member of a religious sect, or as a citizen of a nation feels an irrational dislike toward another person, or a different sect or nation, words often cannot pull us out of a negative mindset. As the saying goes, it is hard to use reason to change the mind of someone whose point of view is not based on reason to start with. Sometimes a reasonable argument using the best logic our words can express, cannot change the mind of a person whose outlook is hardened by conformational bias.

Philosopher David Hume put the situation this way: “Reason alone can never be a motive to any action of the will…” His opinion is that emotions are stronger than words, and even though it was someone’s words that might have led to an unreasonable attitude in another person to start with, once it is established in that person’s mind, reasonable words are often not strong enough to make the person change. Once a person develops an emotional bias, it is hard for words to overcome it. The person can only be motivated by a change in emotion, for example turning the emotion of intolerance into tolerance. We can be influenced by the words of other people, but the emotional change must come from within.

We must, therefore, learn to get the most strength we can out of our words. Is it possible to somehow make our words as strong as our emotions? We would like to think so. But animal emotions go back in our ancestry much longer than words, millions of years longer. Fear was embedded in our mammal ancestors long before primates evolved into hominins. Fear became one of our best survival tools. As soon as living entities became aware of their existence, they felt fear when a predator attacked.

Natural selection even developed a part of the brain devoted to fear and the emotions of anxiety and aggression needed to help an organism preserve its life when threatened. It is the amygdala, made up of two small almond shaped clusters located deep inside the brain. As our amygdala has developed, we humans have carried the emotion of fear to new heights. It seems as if some governments operate on fear. They fear other nations and want other nations to fear them.

 Sadly, our history and the daily news show us the tragic extent to which we fear each other. Our guns, our bombs, our ceaseless conflicts, and our hateful rhetoric are symptoms of our fear and how utterly irrational it can be. Fear is a holdover from the earliest life on Earth. Our fear of each other is a strong indicator of how animal instincts are still so embedded in us that we are having trouble evolving beyond them. Each of us must be mindful of our future as a human being and not let old animal instincts rule our behavior.

However, it is interesting that even though fear is not conducive to positive human relations, some of us seem to enjoy fear. We spend millions of dollars making and attending movies as well buying books that frighten us. Is experiencing fear a type of catharsis that helps purge our emotions of real-life fear? Horror stories are certainly a popular genre these days. But for many people, murders, mass shootings, and war are more horror than they want.

Can our words help us control our reaction or overreaction to fear? Fear can be subtle or dominant. It is with us to some extent nearly all of the time, especially given the current status of world politics and the high number of weapons around the world. The situation with so many hostile political divisions and the number of weapons under the control of unstable people can prey on one’s mind. There are few places in the world today where one can go and get away from the problem. Bombs can drop just about anywhere on Earth.

Thus, given the ubiquity of fearful situations in the world today, we are forced to learn to live with it. But if we dwell too much on circumstances that arouse fear in us, it can lead to a degree of psychosis that causes an entrenchment of bias or a mistrust of certain policies or people. Words from world leaders can assuage our fears or have a detrimental effect on us causing separation and divisiveness rather than promoting harmony and cooperation. The world looks forward to a time when nations cooperate better and the level of spiteful rhetoric and fear goes down.


Words can say “I love you” or, as we have seen too often in our past, they can command armies to attack a city and kill every man, woman, and child in it. They express the wide range of human emotions from giving one’s life for another to murdering a multitude of innocent people in an uncontrolled lust for power. How do we add strength to our words or cope with their weaknesses?

Is there more we should or could be doing with our words? Or are we at the limit of what our current vocabulary can do for us. Words are tools humans invented, just like flint arrowheads and jet planes. We must make them work harder for us in solving our political and civil disputes. But they are not machines that do a particular job. Words reflect ideas and emotions that can be understood or misunderstood. We must determine the best way to use them.

As beautiful and necessary as our words are, can they get us out of the political and military conundrum we humans have gotten ourselves into with too many paranoid dictators with too many big weapons? Harsh words are the norm these days. Do we all really hate and fear each other that much?

The words and actions of some of our national leaders are pushing civility to the brink with their threats, their hateful looks, and saber rattling. Some of us have taken the meanness of a playground bully to new heights. It seems that at times international diplomacy has gone from discussing mutual interests beneficial to all parties involved to ‘if I do not get my way, I will threaten to attack you’. We need strong words to cool us down. Compromise between the governments of nations has always been and continues to be absolutely necessary. Stubbornness and narrow mindedness are not good for individuals and not good for governments.

Although our diplomatic words often seem to lack substance and power, our technical language is flourishing. With words and drawings engineers can build roads, bridges, and very tall buildings, as well as tanks and fighter jets. Scientists are able to write about new discoveries that help us understand how our bodies and brains fit into our vast and complex universe. Our wordy novels tell the story of our foibles, our weaknesses, and, fortunately, a few have happy endings. We write our autobiographies to let the world know we were here and had a particular set of life experiences different from anyone else. We certainly make good use of our nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, pronouns, prepositions, conjunctions, and articles, whatever language they are spoke or written in.


The big question, however, is how often do words save lives and prevent destruction of the things we have worked hard to build? If diplomacy is carried out in a fair and sincere manner in which both parties want to reach an agreement, words can stop conflicts and save lives. Problems arise, however, when the parties are so set in particularly stubborn points of view that they automatically disagree on nearly every issue being discussed. In this case even if the words are strong and sincere, the parties just do not bother to listen to each other or try to understand what is being said. We need strong words to convey strong ideas and, of course, everyone must be willing to listen.

Speech and kind gestures are all we have to get our emotions under control, and we must make the best of these mental tools. It is quite a challenge. A few years ago, physicist Stephen Hawking summed up what sounds like our human ultimatum: “Whether the language transmitted sense of responsibility is sufficient to control the DNA transmitted instinct of aggression remains to be seen. If it does not, the human race will have been one of natural selection’s dead ends.” This might sound a bit extreme, but keep in mind there are already enough weapons from handguns to hydrogen bombs to kill all of us many times over. And we are building more every day. This behavior borders on madness, especially when you consider the level of paranoia of some of the rulers who control the weapons. We are on the brink of species suicide, but seem unable to stop ourselves. It is blatantly obvious that we must get ourselves under control.

But if the instinct of aggression is truly in our DNA, it is going to be difficult to rid ourselves of it. Overcoming the biological forces that shaped our past can be done, but it will not be easy. Developing a mindset for world peace requires that we need to realize that we are now able to take control of our evolution. Fear and aggression are products of our evolution. We let these traits develop in us because we did not understand evolution and how it was affecting us. Now we have a much better understanding of the processes that controlled our evolution and we are beginning to realize that we have the strength in our minds to take control of it.

Natural selection eliminated species that did not adapt to their environment. Given our current level of mistrust and firepower, humanity is currently in an environment that could cause our own elimination. Adaptation for us is cooling tempers, coming to strong diplomatic agreements, and achieving a level of global cooperation that will guarantee lasting peace. It is obvious that we stand a much greater chance of surviving in an environment of peace and cooperation than one of aggression and hostility. We do not need to succumb to the idea that we are merely acting out the laws of nature and that we have no control over our actions. We have minds and can change as individuals and as a species.

Philosophers debate the issue of free will, and perhaps given the fact that we are all made of atoms and eukaryotic cells and that physically our biology is subject to the laws of nature, it is true that we are limited in that respect. However, our minds are our own and are not limited by physical restrictions. They can certainly be limited by our biases and attitudes, but they are also capable of understanding right from wrong based on a strong sense of ethics and morality toward others. Our minds can soar above the “DNA transmitted instinct of aggression” by building in ourselves a strong sense of responsibility and care for others.

Each individual, regardless of nationality, religion, or political affiliation has the ability to control the attitudes and biases that rule his or her life. It is unfortunate that many of us are so misled by someone else’s wrong thinking. Each of us has the ability to advocate peace and cooperation or be so mentally disturbed and wrongfully misled as to advocate war and destruction. In today’s world where aggression often overtakes reason, sometimes the attitude of peace is not expressed strong enough. It is a situation that we need to move beyond in our growth of human maturity. We are going to need strong and convincing words to make everyone understand that peace builds and war always destroys.


DNA designs the body that holds your mind, but your mind is what your biases and attitudes make it. That is why it is important to be aware of how your mind interprets what your senses take in, especially the words you hear from people trying to entice you to see the world from their point of view. Only you are in control of what your mind decides to believe or not believe. Don’t let others use your mind or attempt to think for you, especially if someone is trying to entice you to into destructive or harmful behavior.

It is normal to be angry at people who are trying to promote hatred and discontent. But mainly be unhappy at yourself for believing their spiteful message. As far as possible, check the facts of someone’s rhetoric especially if they are using sketchy statistics or questionable quotes. Don’t be drawn to cult figures who make empty promises. They operate on the assumption that if you tell a big lie often enough, many people begin to believe it.

Hawking and many others who have expressed the warning about our dangerous aggressive behavior are telling us that we must replace weapons with words. One optimistic way to look at the situation is to realize that even though the words splattered across the newscasts by belligerent national leaders and their sycophants are insulting and mean-spirited, they are far less dangerous than bullets or bombs. The problem is, however, that one never knows when one of the big mouth spite-spouters is going to believe in his or her own hateful rhetoric to the point of sending out the army, the missiles, or the bombers.

A big part of the problem that keeps us anxious and fearful is that our weapons technology has outpaced our ability to rationally control it. Our billions of weapons from handguns to bombs have bred a gun culture throughout much of the world, and it inevitable that with that many weapons in the hands of fearful or unhappy people, they will be used. We are already killing each other in robberies, mass shootings, and wars at rates that make us ashamed of our species. It is as if the desire to dominate others is so strong in some of us that it seems as if we cannot control ourselves. But we can control ourselves, and we must.

We must somehow talk and think and negotiate ourselves out of this scary existential situation we are in. The point needs to be always prominent in our brains that there are too many deadly weapons in the hands of too many belligerent and paranoid people. While this has been a problem for many years, the number of weapons, their increased effectiveness, and the fact that many people today are absolutely rabid about their obsession to own and carry a gun, have made the problem a serious threat to our well-being. Gun control laws and international treaties will help, but they are not going to solve the problem. The use of guns to harm people is a mental illness to be addressed by every individual.

But, of course, it is not necessarily the weapons that are the problem. It is the insanity of those who feel that their enhanced ability to kill other humans is necessary. Fear and an attitude of aggression are our enemies. Whether it is a restless teenager on a street corner who just stole a pistol or the ambitious and paranoid leader who controls a large national army, the principle is the same… dangerous weapons in the hands of unstable and unpredictable people.

It seems that our only hope is to wisely use our minds and communication skills to instill in ourselves and others a strong enough sense of responsibility to move us beyond the aggressive tendencies that have become too normal in our relations with each other. As time goes on, the truth of Stephen Hawking’s warning is definitely worth thinking about. Now more than at any time in our history, we need the right words to communicate a sense of responsibility.

Yet, in spite of the warnings by Hawking and many other concerned people, there are some among us who are arrogant and ignorant enough to think that whatever they do, their lives will continue to proceed in an orderly fashion even though thousands or millions around them are suffering. They do not seem to care about the repercussions of their actions on other people. Their blend of arrogance and paranoia leads them to blithely believe they can keep building large armies, and building and testing deadly weapons and keep threatening to use them. They act as if the rest of the world is an enemy set on destroying them and they had rather risk political and military suicide than agree to join in constructive diplomacy that would greatly benefit them and the citizens they represent. This behavior is beyond stubbornness, this is insanity.


It is obvious that thoughtful, productive, and sane people all over the world do not want war or hateful conflict. It has always been that way. What the majority of people understand is that our nourishing Earth should not be a place of warring factions. We have put up with the insanity of crime and war for thousands of years and we are sick of it. From the guy next door with a noisy lawnmower to the armed soldiers on the other side of a razor wire fence, we must come up with words to cool hot tempers and foil the plans of ambitious autocrats.

In spite of what the news reports would lead you to believe, millions of people in communities around the world, regardless of religion or politics, live in peace both within their neighborhoods and with people in other communities. Most national governments around the world are at peace with other nations. This should be the normal way people live. We do not want the fear and disruption, nor conflict or confrontation. What most people around the world ardently desire are neighborly transactions, friendly conversations, and days well spent in productive activities. Most of us believe in the revered human idea of treating others as you would be treated and respecting others as you would be respected.

It does not take a lot of effort to be kind to your neighbor regardless of who you are or where you are. We’re all under the same blue sky and yellow sun. And the rain falls on all of us the same. We are all of one Earth. There is nowhere else for us to go, not for many years to come. Being hostile creates stress, and stress will send you to your grave.


A lot of our conflicts stem from too much pride and misplaced honor. Some of us feel as if living in harmony with others who have a different political system, a different religion, or different economic system is compromising our values, especially when we staunchly believe that our religion, or nation, our culture or our general outlook on life is more reasonable and logical than someone else’s. We want everyone to be like us and believe in the same things we believe in, and we feel uncomfortable around others if they are in any way different. Self-esteem is generally good for people but it can get out of hand if it leads to arrogance and too much self-importance. There are eight billion of us on this planet, and we are all different. If you want people to tolerate you, you must tolerate other people; if you want people to like you, you must like and be friendly to them.

But for too many of us, fear is our ruler, our decision maker. For many of us the idea of having an armed nation with bigger weapons or a bigger army than our neighbor is so ingrained in us that it is going to take a complete change in our thinking to bring us together into a cooperative and harmonious global community.

It is true, however, that in today’s world, nations must be able to defend themselves. But being defensive and being belligerent are two opposing outlooks. Arrogance, egocentrism, and the lust for power that instills fear in one’s neighbors are outmoded and useless bad habits that we need to overcome.

It is unfortunate that some of us have the attitude that: “I want my power, my beliefs, my way of life. I want it now, and I am not concerned about your future.” This is an egocentric dead-end attitude that will not solve any problems but only create more.

One thing our global connectedness has done is help us realize that more and more of us know that we must have harmony in the world if we are to survive as a species and not blow ourselves into extinction. We seem to be a long way from achieving that goal, but it is a goal that will put humanity on track to survive into the future. We humans have great potential. There is a whole universe out there waiting for us. We must work together and not let each other down.


It has been determined that over 99% of all the species that have ever lived on Earth since life began here about 3.8 billion years ago are now extinct, killed off by climate changes, hurricanes, volcanos, asteroid strikes, disease, predation and a number of other deadly forces that they could not adapt to. We forget that we are also a species of animal subject to the same forces. And we humans have added another deadly threat to the repertoire: nuclear war which could wipe out millions of us in a much shorter period of time than any of the other species killers.

Thus, global harmony is not a pie-in-the-sky goal, it is quickly becoming an existential necessity. So far, our words have not been strong enough to stem the tide of hate, fear, and conflict that our species is currently coping with. Our words need to be strong enough to convince us not to give in to emotional impulses that cause contention.

The old animal instincts of flight or fight, kill or be killed are certainly still strong in us. They have been with us since the beginning of our evolution from primates and are deeply ingrained in our psyche. But what we need to get into our heads is that even though we are still to a certain extent instinct-driven animals, our minds and motivations provide us with a power of discernment far beyond animal instinct. We no longer need to succumb to the kill or be killed law of the jungle that some animals are forced to live by. We must stop acting like wild dogs that kill for the pleasure of it.

We have a frontal cortex that tells us that killing others of our species should no longer be part of our human nature. We have language, a sense of ethics and morality, and the ability to reason. Are these enough? It does not seem as if these products of our evolving minds have kept us from killing each other indiscriminately for the last several thousand years. Yet, if we lose any if these human traits, we could easily perish. Our sense of ethics, morality, and a concern for our fellow humans has so far tipped the scales in the favor of our survival as a species. We must speak more words augmenting these traits to enhance our well-being.

Fortunately, people can change. It is a matter of mental maturity that we can develop within ourselves. As we mature as individuals, we mature as a species evolving into more compassionate, more reasonable humans. Yet, some of us continue to be like young children. We are very impulsive. We see something we want, such as a piece of candy or a neighboring country, and go after it before we stop and analyze the long-term repercussions of our actions. Humanity’s immature impulsiveness has caused the deaths of millions of people in our history, and it is still doing it today. Although our maturation process is frustratingly slow, we must make up our minds to stick with it and allow it to make us into more compassionate and caring human beings.

Will our words enable us to develop a stronger sense of compassion and empathy?  When trying to make a point, we need to pick our words carefully and realize that quite often our words and actions may sometimes cause problems for others. Sometimes in our egocentric-driven world, words might inadvertently express a level of arrogance or high level of self-importance and selfishness that we don’t intend. Good communication requires a delicate balance between self-assuredness and humility.


Is it possible that since we seem to be so near the brink of regional conflicts exploding into a much larger wars, that perhaps we should take a closer look at a more humanist and less rigid, less dogmatic point of view on which to base our relations with each other? The wise advice of Abraham Lincoln seems very appropriate for these times as it did during the tragedy of the American Civil War: “The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present…we must think anew and act anew. We must dis enthrall ourselves.”  His words were strong when he spoke them and they are strong now. Then, as now, people all over the world must break out of old thinking and dis enthrall from the biases, prejudices, and national and cultural arrogance that causes so much political turmoil.

Lincoln’s assassination, as with John Kenndy’s and many others in nearly every nation on Earth, were in-your-face reminders that we humans are sometimes a confusing and often a downright stupid species of mammal. Assassinations are a very poor way to solve political disputes and we all feel the pain they cause. One is reminded of lines from “For Whom the Bell Tolls” by John Donne:

Each man’s death diminishes me,

For I am involved in mankind.

Therefore, send not to know

For Whom the bell tolls,

It tolls for thee.

Should we not have evolved beyond assassinations and other irrational political murders by now? But our fear and our paranoia drive us to make the same murderous mistakes over and over again.

We are continually beating our heads against a wall. Isn’t that a hallmark indication of psychosis? Are we too sick to evolve ourselves out of this behavior? Surely, we are not so set in our ways that we cannot learn from our past mistakes. History has shown us time and time again that wars accomplish nothing but murder and destruction, and usually bring on more wars. And adding to the misery and insanity is that some leaders are willing to accept heavy losses of military and civilian personnel for any modest territorial gain. Isn’t a human life worth more than a few square meters of ground? Some of our leaders do not think so. It is extremely arrogant, inhumane and sad that in the quest for power and control of territory, men, women, and children are expendable.


And when the war is over…oh, yes, there is a short time of celebration and rousing speeches by the winning side, and solemn ceremonies when they bury the dead. Then as soon as the dust settles the armies start preparing for the next murderous conflict. Generally speaking, wars wind up coming back against the people who start them. But regardless of who starts them, history has shown us that all wars do far more long-term harm than good.

As ignorant as we are to keep ourselves stuck in this destructive cycle, you’d think humanity hatched from an egg yesterday and has not learned to think beyond the edge of its nest. But we have been evolving for a very long time. You would think that we would know better by now. It is a sad commentary on us that we keep making the same dumb, destructive, and murderous mistakes over and over again.

War mongers, those who perpetuate the destructive cycle of conflict, are reviled. They are considered the villains of history and an unfortunate example of how we are still struggling with ourselves to keep our evolution progressing in a positive, cooperative, and productive way. People who start conflicts are an embarrassing setback in our progress toward global peace and harmony. Yet they persist. Everyone knows they are bad, and perhaps deep down in the back of their minds, they themselves know they should not be causing death and destruction. But the lust for power is strong and overwhelming, especially in a weak and unsettled mind. Perhaps these criminal leaders are victims of a mental disease they cannot overcome. Are all of us victims of a global psychosis?

War mongers are sociopaths who believe they can literally get away with mass murder. But the world sees them and records their vile acts. Another Abraham Lincoln quote should be read by anyone scheming war or any type of crime: “Fellow citizens, we cannot escape history. We will be remembered in spite of ourselves…” We know there are people who commit heinous crimes just to get notoriety. How many of our national leaders are like that…those who kill for no other reason than to get their names in newspapers and history books? They have many words written and spoken about them, but certainly not in a way any sane person would desire.


What will be your legacy? Will it be like Abraham Lincoln’s who did his best to reconcile the warring factions in the American Civil War? Or will it be like Adolf Hitler’s or Vladimir Putin’s who invaded another country for no logical reason and caused the deaths of many thousands of people? Could any well-spoken words have stopped these invaders and the many others like them who have blighted and ruined our history? Were the DNA of these men and many other mean and ruthless killers so aligned from birth that they had no choice but to grow up to be mass murderers? Could one act of kindness or a few words of comfort in their youth have made them cooperative and productive citizens instead of embarrassing setbacks in the progression of human evolution?

In many ways human history has been a sad story of wars, invasions, mindless killings, and suffering refugees. This period in our history of needless wars and political bickering, if we survive it, will be considered a time when we let our paranoia and aggression take control of our common sense. World War II was certainly bad, but this time the hate seems more widespread. And the weapons are bigger and more deadly. It is hard to believe that this is what 3.8 billion years of the evolution of life on Earth has brought us to.

As we evolved beyond primates, we allowed ourselves to be pulled into pointless religions and irrational conflicts. But the human tendency toward a moral and ethical treatment of each other has always been in us, inherited from our mammal ancestors who cared for their offspring. That sense of caring is now a strong emotion in us that needs to be enhanced so that it will surpass the emotion of fear that leads to confusion and aggression. But we too easily give in to being unnecessarily fearful and suspicious of others. So far, we have not been able to find the words to move us beyond our impulsive fear.


Perhaps someday we will come up with words strong enough to overcome our propensity to follow our impulsive emotions into situations that hurt ourselves and others. But it seems that lately a few of us have stopped listening to each other for a number of reasons. Our politics, religions, and a variety of social biases are entrenched so deeply in some of us that they clutter our minds and drown out any sincere consideration of another person’s point of view. Can words of kindness penetrate cluttered minds? Can kindness become our normal human behavior?

The most closed minded of us consider words of empathy and compassion to be weak and they only understand the power of brute force. Their crude methods do not require strength of mind. They point a gun and shoot without stopping to consider other, more sensible, alternatives. They don’t bother considering the long-term consequences of their impulsive action. They give in to their base animal instincts unconcerned about the suffering they cause. Their guns are powerful but their minds are weak.

Some of us have stopped listening to reason because the decisions we made that cluttered our minds with bias and irrationality were not based on sound reasoning to start with. To a person who refuses to consider any point of view but his own, words such as morality, ethics, or symbiotic cooperation, for example, have no meaning.

Words might be able to explain the psychological problem, but the change in thinking has to come from within the person. Criminals, from the thief in a dark alley to the thief in a gilded palace, must realize they are hurting people. Can they be made to understand that they would not want to be treated the way they treat other people? Can sincere words increase their level of empathy at all?


The majority of Earth’s citizens do not raise armies and are not in a position to, nor have any desire to start a deadly conflict. Most of us just want to be left alone to live our lives in peace, to be productive citizens, and have friendly relations with our neighbors. We do not want crime and we see no need for war. Yet we are forced to become concerned observers or victims of conflicts we do not start and want no part in. The vast majority of us want very much to be free of wars and the rumors of wars!  

But who starts wars? Is it each one of us who elect the politicians who make the laws for our nation. Or is it the sycophants who support a dictator who tells them they must fight to preserve the peace and tranquility they have achieved under his or her rule. Those of us who blindly obey a leader are pitied and laughed at by history. As William Shakespeare wrote in his play Henry VIII: “O! how wretched is that poor man that hangs on princes’ favors!” Groveling sycophancy is a problem humanity has had for many centuries, and, unfortunately, we still see it all around us today. Why is it that so many of us feel the need to be ruled, to let someone else do our thinking for us?

But keep in mind a dictator is only as powerful as the sycophants who do his fighting for him. It is a sad spectacle to see the followers of a ruler acting as if they are enthralled over every empty word the ruler utters. These people are indoctrinated to believe that everything the ruler says is true and that his or her directives must be obeyed, even to the point of causing destruction and endangering peoples’ lives. Have the sycophants long ago forgotten how to think for themselves? Do they fear that if they do not show an adequate amount of acquiescence they could be imprisoned or executed or at the very least humiliated in front of their peers. For too many of us it is easier to follow authoritarian rule than to think for ourselves. Mobs of sycophants do not think. They only obey.


For those who respect the sanctity of human life, it seems as if the world has become a cold and impersonal place. As scientist and author Jacob Bronowski noted, we are becoming “deaf to suffering”. We take killing for granted as if there is nothing anybody can do about it. But should we accept this murderous behavior so easily? Concerned people write, speak, and march in the streets… but the killing goes on. Words, words, words…but the killing goes on.

There are deadly conflicts going on somewhere in the world every minute of every day. We talk about them and write about them, but all our words can do is report them. We have so far not been able to come up with the words to stop them.  A word is only as strong as the hearer’s interpretation of it.

Will tyrants and war mongers ever listen to the voices of those who do not want war? Of what value are our words when it comes to stopping the inhuman acts going on around us constantly? Writer Aldous Huxley said: “The most shocking thing about war is that its fighters and its victims are individual human beings and that these individual beings are condemned by the monstrous conventions of politics to murder or be murdered in quarrels not their own.”

Politics has turned out to be a two-edged sword. We came together thousands of years ago in communities to pool our skills at producing food, building sturdy shelters, and be more secure against predators and rival communities. As a result, we became political in that we learned to listen to leaders who claimed to know how to organize our economy and keep us safe from our enemies.

As the communities grew, so did our conflicts. We learned the art of war. We learned to kill others of our kind for territory and resources, for religious differences, and a variety of other contentions real or imagined. The fact that we learned to fight is a deep problem that still plagues us.

These are our fellow human beings we are called on to kill. War turns human morality upside down. We are made to hate others instead of care for them. In his poem “The Man He Killed” Thomas Hardy expresses a poignant truth about how in war one man kills another who, if they had met somewhere other than a battlefield, could have a drink together and be friends. Why do our vainglorious leaders insist on using human beings as “pawns in their game” especially when they threaten to use nuclear weapons as part of their political agenda? If killing thousands will not get them the glory they desire, they threaten to kill millions in the hope that the world will listen and give them the notoriety they crave. This level of foolishness makes these people a danger to themselves and to others.

Numerous people have stated that a nuclear war would devastate civilization as we know it. Are we so stupid and short-sighted that we could allow this to happen? We are supposedly rational human beings. Surely, we are wise enough to prevent our own self-destruction. Are we not many times wiser than a hapless moth that bangs into a lightbulb so often that it eventually kills itself? We humans must keep reminding ourselves that we are smart enough to know that we need to stop doing the things that could eventually kill us.


For many years, thoughtful people have tried to help us see the wisdom of stopping war. As Thomas Hobbs in his book Leviathan reminds us: “For it shall never be that war shall preserve life and peace destroy it.” Wars do not bring peace, just more wars, more death of our fellow humans, and more destruction of the things we have worked hard to build. History has shown us that one war merely leads to another.

Philosopher Immanuel Kant spent years trying to understand how the more reasonable aspects of our human nature could be strengthened so they could replace our innate weakness and selfishness. He set a good example for us. Yet, Hobbs, Kant and many others had only words to combat our inner aggressiveness. And, so far, the wisest of our words have not cured this deep-seated neurosis we have.

So, what are we to do with our words but keep speaking them and writing them, shouting them, splattering them on big signs, or whispering them as secrets that no one else is supposed to hear? We obey them or ignore them depending on the life experiences that led to our particular set of biases and point of view. Can we hope that they will ever be strong enough to save us from ourselves?

So, what must we do to stop this madness? Of what value are our words in saving our lives? All we can do is keep uttering words, lots and lots of strong and wise words that we hope the war mongers will listen to and think about. How strong can we make our words? Can we come up with new words to fit our precarious situation?

Of course, our frustration over the weakness of our words makes us anxious. But we must not let our anxiety force us to give up the attempt to make our world safe and harmonious. Our minds are strong. They can overcome thousands of years of learning war and turn humanity around to a new era of global peace and cooperation among all peoples. We will keep uttering words of peace until everyone is listening. How strong can thoughtful people make the case to end crime and war? How strong can we make our case to inspire all the citizens of Earth to have a sincere loyalty to the lives of all people everywhere? We can and we must change ourselves. When we become aware of our human potential and put our minds to the task, we can evolve our thinking beyond the need for conflict. Our complacency has allowed our worst traits to control our motives and actions. We cannot be complacent any longer. Be diligent. Keep speaking your words of peace and harmony. The world is listening.

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