Words Fail Me
by Kevin Sims
Words Fail Me
I LOVE words. I love playing with them, shaping them, experimenting with them. Reading that back, I feel I should stand up and admit: ‘My name’s Kevin and I’m a wordaholic!’
Words are powerful – they can heal and they can hurt. That old playground saying: ‘Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me,’ is quite obviously nonsense. Wounds from ‘sticks and stones’ will usually heal but hurt caused by an unpleasant word can stay raw and unhealed throughout someone’s life.
What’s annoying about words, mind you, is that their power has limits. There are some things that go beyond the description of mere words. Poets make valiant attempts to describe love, for instance, but all of Shakespeare’s sonnets couldn’t get you to the point where you know what it’s like to feel love. Faith is another thing that can never be fully explained or described in words.
An old Scottish phrase says that some things are ‘better felt than telt’ – it’s one thing hearing or reading about something happening but nothing is a substitute for experiencing it for yourself. Some things, feelings especially, are almost impossible to put into words. You can try to describe how something made you feel but you’re unlikely to be able to make someone experience what you felt. The best writers can evoke empathy but that’s still only an echo of the original feeling or emotion.
As the Editor of All the World, this causes me concern. You see, a magazine has to use words and pictures to try to convey facts, figures and even those intangibles that cannot be put into words. I don’t want people to read the articles and remain unmoved. I want something of the experience, something of the reality to come through – and that’s not an easy task to accomplish.
I encourage people who write for the magazine to go beyond the dry facts and try to explain how what they saw and experienced affected them. The idea is that you, the reader, should get at least a fraction of an idea of what it would be like to meet Myanmar villagers who have lost everything in a cyclone or how it would feel to have your heart touched by children from a school for the blind in Jamaica.
If you pick up on even the tiniest amount of the joy, sadness, love, frustration or exhilaration experienced by the people who have told the stories in this magazine then the words (and pictures) have done their job.
The man pictured on the front cover is Noah Kinuthia, who produces goods for ‘Sally Ann’ Fair Trade by The Salvation Army. I met Noah two years ago and I can picture him in his little two-room factory in Nairobi, Kenya, proudly showing the boxes, ornaments and other gifts he and his workers had made.
Using words alone I can’t give you the experience I had – the feeling of heat, the smells, the tastes, the emotions. What I can do is use the albeit limited power of words and hope that the people and situations you read about in All the World become somehow real, maybe even stirring you to action. I guess that’s another instance where some things are better felt than telt.
Kevin Sims is the editor of All the World