In her introduction to a collection of Abraham Heschel’s essays titled Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity, Heschel’s daughter Susannah states the following:
Words, he often wrote, are themselves sacred, God’s tool for creating the universe, and our tools for bringing holiness – or evil – into the world. He used to remind us that the Holocaust did not begin with the building of crematoria, and Hitler did not come to power with tanks and guns; it all began with uttering evil words, with defamation, with language and propaganda. Words create worlds, he used to tell me when I was a child. They must be used very carefully. Some words, once having been uttered, gain eternity and can never be withdrawn. The Book of Proverbs reminds us, he wrote, that death and life are in the power of the tongue. (emphases mine)
I study rhetoric because I recognize the power of words. We see it daily, especially during a time of a contentious election; the words we use and abuse and twist and turn do more than just merely enter a person’s ears. They oppress, they incite, they invigorate, they inspire. I quoted Heschel above not just because his words make sense, but also because the man himself possesses an ethos that gives them positive power. Heschel acted upon these ideas, working continually for the greater good, the most memorable action being his march against hate alongside Martin Luther King, Jr. Heschel continually acted in the interest of social justice, but always chose his words carefully when doing so. Today, his words have lasting power that I’ve seen inspire many of my friends and colleagues to do better. To be better.
I study rhetoric because I want to discover the ways in which we can use the power of our words for good. I want my words to create positive, life changing worlds.