In her 1842 collection entitled Words in a Sunday School, Unitarian teacher Eliza Thayer Clapp instructs her female students that “words are very important things” (136). Sikhism, as well, recognizes the power of language: even as countless names prove insufficient to fully capture the entirety of God, "words are required to describe God’s virtues and to praise them" (SGGS 4.7). In the Western imaginary, following Wittgenstein, language exists relatively, amounting to a game in which we all participate, with nothing real or fixed behind it. And yet, in Vedic tradition, there exists no qualitative or ontological difference between the signifier and the referent (i.e. the word and the thing it represents). To recite a mantra, for example, is to actually summon the gods.
What would it mean for our speech if we were to adopt such a mindset - if we were to see words as very important things? Might we replace hurtful slurs with verbal gestures of love? Might we summon tenderness over bigotry? Print this post