The Power of Well Chosen Words

While I was at the Write! Vancouver writers’ conference in Vancouver, BC a few weeks ago, a gentleman by the name of Wade Larson gave a talk in which he shared what have been called the most powerful speeches ever given: Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, and Winston Churchill’s series of speeches. I thought he would tell us about those speeches and their impact, but instead, he read them.

Just…read them.

And as I listened, something happened. Those words—words I’ve heard before, many times—wrapped themselves around my mind and heart and stirred such emotion…such passion! I wanted to stand up and cheer. To cry out at injustice. To leave that room and DO something, make a difference, change the world. All because of…


Wade’s point was that these speeches, these words, came from these men’s hearts and passions. They came from the core of their beliefs and the heart of their faith. They were the perfect words spoken at the perfect time. And because of that, they still, to this very day, move us. Enlighten us. Change us.

So over the next few weeks, I’m going to share those speeches with you. If you would, I’d love to have you read them. Out loud. Or have someone come into the room and read them out loud to you. Close your eyes. Listen. And know the power of well chosen, purposeful words. And then…

Go forth and do likewise. Choose your words well. Fill them with purpose and passion. And let God use them to move and enlighten and change the world around you.

Dr. Martin Luther King delivered his “I Have A Dream” speech on August 28, 1963, at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Dr. King had delivered a version of his “I have a dream” in other speeches and sermons. On this day, as he stood there, looking out at 150,000 people who had gathered, he started to read the speech. But then…something happened. He stopped reading…and just spoke. And the “I have a dream” that he’d used before, became something new. Something that sprang from the core of his heart and spirit. The amazing thing is that this speech, which galvanized so many into changing our world, almost passed into history unnoticed. The news reporters debated on whether or not to mention the speech at all. Thank God they decided to do so. And those amazing words spread through people’s hearts.

Here, in part, is that amazing speech:

I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells. And some of you have come from areas where your quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive.

Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed.

Let us not wallow in the valley of despair, I say to you today, my friends.

And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of “interposition” and “nullification”–one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; “and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.”

This is our hope, and this is the faith that I go back to the South with.

With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

And this will be the day–this will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with new meaning:

My country ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing.
Land where my fathers died, land of the Pilgrim’s pride,
From every mountainside, let freedom ring!

And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true.

And so let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire.

Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York.

Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania.

Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado.

Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California.

But not only that:

Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia.

Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee.

Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi.

From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

And when this happens, and when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual:

                Free at last! Free at last!
                Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!

6 Responses to The Power of Well Chosen Words

  1. Jackie Layton June 11, 2014 at 3:59 am #

    Passion, emotion, and voice. We all need this in our writing. Dr. King had all of this and more in his speech. What a dream he had!

    Thanks for sharing!

  2. Jeanne Takenaka June 11, 2014 at 7:00 am #

    Karen, thanks for this. Words have power! I need to be reminded of this. Martin Luther King’s speech was amazing. And timeless. I appreciate you sharing this post.

  3. Judith Robl June 11, 2014 at 2:11 pm #

    Words, I love words. From the power of stirring words like those above and the others you mentioned to the playfulness of Dr. Seuss. Words are the stuff of powerful magic.

    With them we can inspire crowds, intrigue children to learn, and transform hard hearts to empathy.

    Thank you for this powerful reminder that our stock in trade is a precious and powerful commodity.

  4. marci seither June 11, 2014 at 4:01 pm #

    Thanks Karen for this awesome post..sometimes in this crazy business, where being rejected is talked about more than being accepted, it is hard to not wonder if what we write really makes a difference.

    Dr. King also said.. “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

    Thanks again for the reminder of people whose words impacted the world,

  5. Rose Chandler Johnson June 12, 2014 at 9:36 am #

    Thank you Karen for this amazing article. Thanks also for sharing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s speech with us. It is a masterpiece.

  6. Xochi E Dixon June 13, 2014 at 7:22 am #

    Thanks for sharing this post. I’m still overwhelmed with emotions when I hear or read Dr. King’s speech. His voice resounds with power, hope, and confidence in the One Who is The Word. I pray I will write from a heart surrendered to Christ, share truth with passion, create a sense of hope with courageous cadance and well- chosen words, and remain true to the voice God has given me and the stories He designed for me to share. Thanks for inspiring me today, Karen. 🙂

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