Words have meaning, but ideas have power

A Note from Halcyon’s CEO

By Joshua Tijerina

Two days ago I was watching some old videos on social movements and came across a 30 minute video of Saul Alinsky having a conversation with a group of Native American youth discussing Canada’s Indian Act. The conversation takes place in 1967, and consists of Alinsky telling the young Native Americans that they don’t have the desire to change because they won’t take the risk. What really stood out to me, however, was a specific combative statement from Alinsky, and I’ll paraphrase here,

“You’re the best ally the establishment has when you take the position that you don’t want to communicate with them in the terms they understand. They couldn’t buy a better ally.”

So many people in the various movements towards foundational values think so highly about words. It is as though a discussion using certain words somehow gives up the game. Take, for instance, the word preborn, which has become the chosen word for the pro-life movement to replace unborn. One article I found on the subject (simple Google search) asserts

“I will admit that my position on this issue is strongly influenced by my 30+ professional year’s pitching ideas to clients about selecting the right words and images that best represent their mission statement and corporate identity. I am just a little cognizant of word choices. Words have power. No, let me clarify that statement. Well chosen words have power.”

No, words don’t have any power — they have meaning; ideas have power.

This concept is captured best, I think, by Humpty Dumpty in Through the Looking Glass

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.”
“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master — that’s all.”

All too often people think they can “message” their way to hearts and minds, but people aren’t captivated by a message or precise language ; people are captivated by powerful ideas full of passion and bravery.

Halcyon will always communicate in the terms of modern society, because real communication is not about precision of language; it’s about being heard.