The Power of Our Words

Zachary Weiss
Apr 20 · 8 min read
Photo by Suzy Hazelwood from Pexels

This is a new medium for me. (Get it?) Over the years, I have had the pleasure of being able to travel the world, meet interesting people, and have insightful conversations. I’ve also devoted myself over the past few years to learning more about the world we live in. It’s been a true passion of mine to try to achieve a deeper understanding of why things are the way they are and why we are the way we are. I’m not going to pretend I have any answers. I’m not going to pretend I have anything new to add. But, I believe I have a lot of important and interesting things to say. And so, I am entering the bottomless pit of internet wisdom to share with you yet another point of view. Mine. Thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoy.

I love to write. It’s why I’m here, right now, writing this piece. My love affair with writing started long ago. It started in high school. It started because of a girl. It started out of love. It grew with that love. And it continued out of heartbreak, disillusionment, and loneliness. My love for writing wasn’t seemless. It didn’t begin from passion or enjoyment. It began because it was a chance for me to understand someone I so desperately wanted to be with. It didn’t turn out the way I expected, of course. But life has a funny way of giving us exactly what we need when we don’t even realize that we need it. That’s a lesson I learned then. And it’s a lesson that I haven’t forgotten it since. You see, over the course of 6 months, every fibre of my being was transformed by this art form. It was transformed in a way that I truly believe has crafted me into the person I am so proud of being today. It gave me grace and class. It gave me patience and trust. It gave me resolve and determination. It gave me pain and suffering. It gave me tears and blood. And, most of all, it gave me my humanity.

The teacher of this class was the late Mr. Steffler. And though he has passed, he continues to inspire me every time I put the proverbial pen to paper. He allowed me to discover a gift. Or, perhaps, he allowed me to develop one. I still don’t have an answer to that. In his class, The Writer’s Craft, we were taught to write. But not the way you’re thinking. Because this was no ordinary class. We were taught to throw assumptions out the window. We were taught to unlearn what we had learned. We were taught to truly think outside the box. We were taught how to stop thinking. And it’s this last point that brings me to one of the many things I wish to impress upon you, the reader. To write is to stop thinking. To write is to take your being — everything you are, everything you were, and everything you will ever be — and craft it into words. And it is this act that may be the most noble, most human thing that we can ever do. Because as far as I’m concerned, what makes us human is not what we build or what we do, but it’s what we communicate. Communication is what was shown with drawings in caves so many years ago. Communication is what built Rome. Communication is what allowed us to land on the moon. Communication is what allowed us to build cities of tens of millions. And communication is what will save us from several impending crises. And while writing may be only one form of communication, I can confidently say that to write is to be human. This, right here, is the power of our words.

And so this course, The Writer’s Craft, changed me, over time. Of course, the so-called “Writer’s Craft” isn’t an art I’ll say I’ve mastered. No way. But it is a craft that I know myself to be damn good at. And it’s a craft I want to share. Just like it was shared with me so many years ago.

As I’ve grown older, had more experiences, had more successes, had more failures, and simply lived, the power words has only grown stronger to me. To me, words are among the most precious and beautiful things we have. Words have gotten me to where I am today. Words have made me into the person that I am so proud to be right now. And while there are many words that have carried me over the years, there are no words more special to me than a particular passage from Homer’s The Odyssey. When faced with the promise of more perilous adventures on his journey home, Odysseus confronts the gods only to realize this part of the journey is out of his hands. No matter how hard he may try, great loss and sadness awaits him. And it is up to only Odysseus himself to see these trials through and continue on.

Old contender, will you not yield to the immortal gods? - The Odyssey, Homer

These words have defined me. These words have shown me that no matter what perils or conflicts may present themselves, it is up to I and I alone to continue on. It is these words that have gotten me to where I am today. These words are a part of me — literally — being tattooed forever on my body.

That’s what the power of our words can be. Words can create us. Words can destroy us. Words can fix us. And words can take us apart; piece by piece. But most of all, words can define us.

Disclaimer: I love politics. I love hearing about politics. I love learning about politics. But, most of all, I love talking about politics. If politics isn’t your thing, keep reading. Because it should be. There is simply nothing more consequential than politics. And hopefully I am able to show you why.

The power of our words has taken on an entirely new meaning in the modern world we live in. And despite the true wonder of words, they can be used in truly horrific and despicable ways. No better example of this can be seen than in our current political climate. A climate where politicians across the spectrum, though in particular on the right, used their words to divide us for their own personal gain. They discourage bold, progressive action by ranting about debt, and taxes, and deficits, and challenges, and problems, and issues, and on and on. This continues, cycle after cycle, because nobody stands up and talks about the other side of the coin. What would the world be like if politicians talked about what we gain instead of what we lose through action?

To take this into a a more practical sense, I’d like to dive head-first into the weeds of policy. Pharmacare, a plan to provide universal prescription drug coverage, does not exist in Canada. And it desperately needs to be. Canada is the only country on Earth that provides universal health coverage that does not also provide universal prescription medication coverage. This fact alone should be enough to infer that Canada is lagging behind. But yet, here we stand. The major “barrier” in the way to Pharmacare in Canada is the cost — estimated to cost billions of dollars each year. Those standing in opposition to this plan argue that this cost alone is enough to prohibit the implementation of this plan. Those standing in power argue this plan is too expensive, and a two-tiered system where only the most needy get this coverage is the right step forward. And those on the sidelines, like myself, argue that universal health coverage doesn’t exist in Canada without Pharmacare, because without the live-saving drugs many of us need, healthcare isn’t truly universal nor accessible. Not to mention that Pharmacare would actually save Canadians money. I digress.

What if we reclaimed the narrative? What if instead of cost, we talked about the gains? What if we talked about the literal tens of thousands of Canadians that would not die young because they had access to simple medications? What if we talked about the healthcare savings we would incur by preventing people from getting sick when they’re old? What if we talked about the economic gains from increased productivity, health, and happiness of our population? Maybe then, with the power of our words, we could do what is right. With the power of our words, we could do what is needed.

What would the world be like if we applied context to our thoughts? And even if we did, would anybody notice? Would anybody care? It’s hard to believe they would. Nowhere is this more clear than in our music. The only truly popular form of poetry we have left today. Any yet, despite the wonder of words we have access to, so few take the time to experience the words. To palpate their power. To feel the emotions they carry. To take them to heart. Because these words are being screamed at us constantly. And all we hear are the beats. We don’t hear the cries for help, the societal struggles, and the rising disparities between us. We don’t see ourselves in the mirror, we don’t look inside ourselves, and we don’t empathize with the scenarios. We don’t do anything.

Like context in the modern debate, I just took it out. - Give Yourself A Try, The 1975

I think this lyric may be the most poignant I’ve heard in a long time. I can sit here, in the comfort of my apartment, in front of a screen to which only I can see, and declare we that we start to care about context. And nothing will change. But for some reason, this lyric makes me feel something. It makes me feel guilty. It makes me feel angry. It makes me confused, sad, dismayed, and so many other things. All in one line, I can see all of the context to these words. Again, this is the power of our words.

As you can imagine, I can give example after example about the power of our words. And I will, as I continue to write for this new medium, Medium. Because the time we live in demands new perspectives. It demands a new appreciation for an ancient form of communication: our words. And if we can harness the power of our words, just as we have countless times before, I truly believe nothing is out of reach. We just need to be willing to pay attention to them.

So, as I venture to share my thoughts with you, I will attempt to chart ideas and topics that I feel deserve more attention. From my love of being impatient, to the power of poetry in education, to why hustle culture is killing is, and to what bowerbirds can tell us about relationships and gender roles. And I will do all of this without forgetting the power that our words can carry.

Thanks for reading.

Zachary Weiss

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Medical student at the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry. I write about politics, policy, science, and healthcare.