Some years ago I heard the author Russell Banks speak at Cincinnati’s Mercantile Library. He said something to the effect that 19thcentury Americans who could read and write deeply valued their ability to do so. They believed they had something to say – that others wanted to hear – and they believed in their ability to say it.
I discovered the same in reading the letters of John Quincy Adams as he helped negotiate the Treaty of Ghent following the War of 1812.
In an age when billions of people fling trillions of words every which way, the notion of “something to say” continues to motivate me.
And it makes me an ambivalent blogger.
To be clear, I am in awe of bloggers who build loyal followings. I know a few and have great respect for their work. But a lot of bloggers don’t, in my opinion, have much to say. I don’t always have something to say. Not that I’m not thinking about interesting stuff. But thoughts are not ideas.
Maybe that’s why I so admire 19th century Americans’ respect for words, for turning words into ideas. Those who could read and write surely took communication seriously. I think they felt a great responsibility to make sure others could not only understand the idea, but also build on it. Run with it.