Words can, indeed, have almost a magical power and a force you can feel. A few kind words of encouragement and love can lift you up just as a harsh insult can be felt as sure as a punch to the stomach.
Words have such importance that some would even say we define our existence every day just by what we say to ourselves and others. Our language is constantly reflecting and evolving our culture. Children are on the front lines of this language evolution and teachers bear witness all the time to new uses for old words such as gay, chill and sick (which now can be used to mean "great").
As a Spanish teacher, I often get asked to translate words such as cool or hang-out. These words have special meaning only to people familiar with our American culture and don't have exact equivalents in Spanish. Students often take for granted the expressions they use everyday, but, as they mature, they choose their words more carefully.
Learning a foreign language can give them valuable insights into their own culture and themselves. We can learn so much about our native language experience by exploring other languages.
For example, recently I was reading about the language of New Guinea. It seems the people of New Guinea are extremely sensitive about maintaining smooth social relations, and it is reflected in their language. They have evolved some interesting words such as mokita, which means the unspoken truths of certain social situations that everyone knows but nobody talks about directly.
They also have a term, biga peula, which means a direct reference to unspoken truths.
A biga peula can lead to physical violence or death. We might call them fightin' words. There is also biga viseki, which is the use of metaphors as disguised speech, and sanza, which is a disguised insult.
All these words have to do with socially acceptable behavior. It's easy to see how cultural values are spread and reinforced when we examine other languages. Another foreign term that has particular relevance to our society in this very political year is the Sanskrit word "mantra." It literally means mind-tool.
Barack Obama's mantra was "Change we need," and "Yes, we can!" John McCain settled on "Country first".
The idea is that, if you keep repeating something, it will come true. While the candidates have been trying to steer us to their vision of a new world with powerful slogans, we continue to go about our daily business with personal mantras we unconsciously say to ourselves, such as "Stay cool," and "Follow your heart," and "Eat right," and "Don't waste gas," and "Go faster" and "Go slower". Maybe what we really need is a njepi (Balinese for a national day of silence) to better hear the mantras and other words of wisdom echoing in our heads.