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The Power of Our Words

by Jan Phillips, artist, author, workshop facilitator
Posted: 05/28/11 02:00 PM ET at The Huffington Post

May 26 was the birthday of Dorothea Lange, the photographer who took the iconic Migrant Mother image during the Dust Bowl. She left a successful portrait business in San Francisco to document the displacement of the Dust Bowl farmers.

The incredible thing about Lange’s work is the power it had to influence others. When an exhibition of her images was displayed in a NYC gallery, a man who saw them was deeply moved. He was so touched by their intimacy, so drawn into the plight of the migrant workers, that he felt akin to them. He wanted to help, but “What can I do?” he thought. “I’m just a writer.” It was John Steinbeck and soon his book Grapes of Wrath was on the bookstands.

As another man read the words of Steinbeck, he, too, felt moved to action. “This is my country. These are my fellow citizens. I want to help, but what can I do? I’m only a film director.” But it was John Ford, and soon Americans were flocking to the theaters to see his film Grapes of Wrath. And once the American public felt their commonness with these farmers and migrant workers, they lobbied Congress for social programs that would help them and that was the beginning of several federal programs that benefited the folks who were most in need.

Lange could never have known the reach of her work. All she knew was that she had a tool for getting the word out, and day by day, she, being a survivor of polio herself, limped through the camps of the most destitute and shared their world in the best way she could. And that changed everything.

That’s how we co-create our culture. We put out our thoughts, our stories, our images, our paintings –anything that makes the inner, invisible world visible to others — and trust in their power to add grace and light and consciousness to the world.

We do not ask, “How can I change the world?” We simply ask, “What do I love? What do I know? What do I care about?” and to the best of our ability, we offer that to the world in the most beautiful way we can. That is our job as evolutionary creators. The words we speak have power. Your sentences will be experienced like a shower of rose petals or a bucket of ashes. So be mindful of your words. Be careful with your power. Go minute by minute through your day casting kindness here and there. THAT is what will bring you the joy you are crying out for.

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