Friday, March 20, 2009

Do words have power?

How about the power of these two words - "Special Olympics". You can bet Barack Obama knows their power and wishes he had never used them. And he should. He messed up big time when he said his White House bowling resembled the Special Olympics. Now he needs to apologize, very sincerely.

Last October, some poll workers in New York apologized to Barack when they issued an absentee ballot with the words "Barack Osama." Seems even one letter can do damage, let alone one or two words.

Just ask the Iowa community college that this January invited its students to a "Linch and Learn" for Black History Month. Think they had to apologize? How about grovel?

Once when I worked in corporate communications at the Pittsburgh Mercy Health System, we sent hundreds of brochures to EMT's in western Pennsylvania inviting them to a Grand Rounds at Mercy Hospital. Unfortunately, the hundreds of brochures said, "Ground Rounds." You think I didn't hear about that?!

Words have tremendous power to inflict damage, cause joy, motivate the masses. Anybody remember the word, "Change"? How about "Maverick"? Certainly the first of these words helped to propel one of its owners into the White House while the other helped to keep its owner out.

In a memoir, Henry Kissinger reported an incident during the Viet Nam War when the Department of Defense authorized a foray into North Viet Nam to rescue American POW's from a prisoner of war camp. They sent a force to the camp at great cost and risk, despite a coded message from inside the camp saying that the camp was "closed". The DOD decided, because they really wanted to carry out the mission, that the word "closed" meant that the gates were locked. In fact, according to Kissinger, when rescuers got to the camp, they found it was empty.

New York real estate tycoon Larry Silverstein owned a 99 year lease on the World Trade Center Complex. He also owned an insurance policy that said he would be paid $3.5 billion for any terrorist "event" that damaged the complex. After 911 he sued for $7 billion, claiming that the complex was the victim of two "events." Guess what? He convinced the judge that 911 damage to the WTC was two separate events. He was awarded the $7 billion, not a bad return on his $15 million investment.

Yes, words have mystery and power. You know that when you name your child, when you say the name of the person you love, when you say Jesus or Mohamed or Buddha, when you say the two words, "I do" or "I quit" or words like"wop" or "kike" or when you tell a bad joke. You especially know the power of words when you have been politically incorrect, as our president has certainly been. If you or I made his mistake on national television, we'd certainly lose our job. Ask Tommy Lasorda and Don Imus.

Barack won't lose his job, but he needs to apologize, quickly. He said some bad words. We've all done it, probably harmlessly, as Barack no doubt did. But, we need to be ever vigilant with our language, remembering that words have power, whether we intend, or do not intend, the interpretation that has been made of them. Like EMT's going to meetings at the Ground Rounds restaurant!

1 comment:

  1. In writing a report about the company's dismal attitude, an extra "e" created quite a controversary. "The company's morales were at an all time low." WOW-now there's power!!!!