There was this ‘gentleman’ in the Moliere play who was delighted to learn that he had been speaking in ‘prose’ all his life without knowing it, in the context of the literary distinction between poetry and prose. In any case, we too utter– or read or hear – words all the time.
But some words stand out and may speak, in a sense, louder than action. The point I am making is that words matter. Words have the power to move people and inspire action and, even, change the course of individual lives and collective behaviour.
I had to dabble with these thoughts, though not with much academic finesse, in a presentation on the ‘power of words’ in a session of the Second National Media Fellowship workshop on Wednesday in Karachi. This project is sponsored by the National Commission on the Status of Women (NCSW), in collaboration with UNFPA and CEJ-IBA.
Obviously, media professionals need to have a certain level of proficiency in using words – in fact, language – to meaningfully engage with their readers, viewers or listeners. This becomes a challenge in a society where the reading culture is nearly extinct and educational standards are very poor. On this subject, I become rather emotional while expressing my dismay over our intellectual deprivations.
But on this occasion, I am using my encounter with the media workshop only as a peg to underline a few references that I had made while speaking on the ‘power of words’. Otherwise, there are scores of examples of how leaders and writers and media professionals have used words to create an impact and raise the emotions and spirits of the people.
As for the importance and the value of words in the world of communications, I was reminded of the title of Jean Paul Sartre’s biography – which is, simply, ‘The Words’. Half of it is on reading and the other half on writing.
One of my favourite aphorisms about journalism is that it is literature in haste. There is usually a literary flavour in reports, comments and headlines that communicate a story or an idea in an effective manner. Then, there are words that become songs and slogans and catchphrases.
There are words that live in the minds and hearts of the people. There have been speeches made by leaders at a critical moment in the lives of their nation that have changed history. What a fascinating subject this is, and one can think of numerous examples from recent times. There are headlines that became memorable and quotations from speeches that became a part of the vocabulary of the common people.
One example I cited were the three words that Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah had used to generate popular enthusiasm for the cause of Pakistan: ‘Unity-Faith-Discipline’. Actually, I referred to this slogan to underline the fact of how the sanctity of words can be violated and the message of the Quaid can be distorted.
During Zia’s time, they arbitrarily changed the order of the words and put Faith before Unity and Discipline, translating Faith as Eman. During the Quaid’s lifetime, the standard Urdu translation of the three words was: Ittehad- Yaqeen-e-Mohkam-Tanzeem. This is how it is indelibly sketched on the postage stamp released by the Pakistan Postal Service on the first death anniversary of the Quaid on September 11, 1949. The postage stamp was valued at three annas.
The original order of words and their Urdu translation was also inscribed on the ‘Teen Talwar’ monument in Karachi – though the words are now nearly erased. However, the slogan in its distorted form is formally used, particularly within military precincts and nobody seems to mind it, which is another measure of our collective apathy and lack of respect for truth and incontrovertible facts of history.
Incidentally, the 75th death anniversary of the Founder of the Nation was observed at the Quaid-e-Azam House Museum in Karachi on Monday and a number of speeches were made on the man and his mission. But there was certainly no mention of how his iconic exhortation that has a definite message has been violated.
Anyhow, one of the speeches I invoked was made in Washington D C on August 28, 1963 – 60 years ago. Its refrain were four words that had a bearing on the civil rights movement in the United States. You guessed it; it was Martin Luther King Jr who stood before a gathering of 250,000 people and roared: “I have a dream”. Imagine the power and the reach of these four words.
Finally, I felt happy to talk about the speech that the late Steve Jobs, then CEO of Apple Computer, made at Stanford University in 2005. It is perhaps the best and most admired commencement speech made in America. I urged the young participants to Google it and imbibe its message in earnest. The entire speech is quotable, particularly his counsel to the young that “you’ve got to find what you love”.
Here, I have to focus on the most famous line with which he closed his address: “Stay hungry. Stay foolish”. What does this mean? Steve Jobs spoke about a magazine that he loved in his youth. When it stopped publication, there was a photograph on the back cover of the final issue, depicting an early morning country road. Beneath it were the words: “Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish”.
It was their farewell message as they signed off. Said Steve Jobs: “And I have always wished that for myself. And now, as you graduate to begin anew, I wish that for you”. So, he signed off: “Stay hungry. Stay foolish”.
These two sentences or four words are seen to have meant that we should never stop learning and should always try new things. We cannot be sure that our young people, being who they are in this chaotic and unjust society, have the confidence as well as the capacity to chart their own path to success and glory. Yet, Steve Jobs would still whisper in their ears: “Stay hungry. Stay foolish”.Ghazi Salahuddin, "Stay hungry, stay foolish," The News. 2023-09-17.
Keywords: Literature , Literary distinction , Educational standards , Poetry , Steve Jobs , Pakistan , CEO , NCSW