Words matter. More so than self awareness, tool use, and opposable thumbs, language is the characteristic that best defines humanity. We are a species that has words and knows how to use them: to hurt and to heal, to communicate and confound, to define ourselves and others. On a global scale, wars have been won, lost, and waged over words; religions founded and fractured based on the interpretation of words; cultures cultivated and sustained through the repetition of words.
Humanity uses words to record its history, its discoveries, its fumbling and stumbling attempts to make sense of its place in the great, infinite, star-speckled universe in which it finds itself. Humanity uses words to write haiku and Herculean epics; to write the Bible and Qur’an and Bhagavad Gita. It yells and whispers and demands and hates and loves and gives through the use of words.
Hobbes wrote in Leviathan that life in a state of nature is nasty, brutish, and short. Humans may have gathered together in those early days of civilization in order to pool their labor, but it was the words that they developed that kept them together. Like Virgil, words guide us out of the gloomy wood and elevate us from a life of brutish survival to a life of discovery and purpose.
We use words to write the narrative of our lives – the stories that we tell ourselves and which we consequently tell others – so the words that we choose become our lives. Yes, we are cells and plasma and bones and hair and microbiomes, but we are so much more than that. We are our words. They are we and they are us and we are they, and because we matter, because we all matter, they matter. Words matter.