“The pen is mightier than the sword,” who said this? Who believes it? With a quick google search I found that the phrase is credited to the playwright and novelist, Edward Bulwer-Lytton. The now common phrase made its way onto the page in 1839, through his play Richelieu; Or the Conspiracy.
The play centers on Cardinal Richelieu, a real life bishop who served as an advisor to King Louis XIII. In Act III, Scene II the Cardinal is having a conversation with his page, and they are discussing his options on how to thwart those who are planning to kill the King. As a man of the cloth the Cardinal is sort of limited by the whole, “thou shalt not kill.” And because he still wants to adhere to the Ten Commandments the following conversation ensues:
But now, at your command
Are other weapons, my good lord.
True, This! —
Beneath the rule of men entirely great
The pen is mightier than the sword. Behold
The arch-enchanters wand! — itself is nothing! —
But taking sorcery from the master-hand
To paralyse the Cæsars, and to strike
The loud earth breathless! — Take away the sword —
States can be saved without it!
177 years later I’m on a phone that holds millions of stories and none are brought into existence by a pen. The stories I read are typically no longer than 140 characters and visually they last only for a few minutes. But despite the changes in how information is accessed there is a reason that we still find ourselves quoting a dead guy. It was a reason that I was reminded of when watching, “How to Win an Election,” an eight-minute documentary that focuses on Mark McKinnon’s experience as a political strategist.
He remarks, “successful campaigns tell a story. . .good stories win, campaigns without a story lose.” McKinnon states that the pen is responsible for electing the political figures in our world, and I would go out on a limb to say that the pen has done much more than that. We quote playwrights such as Edward Bulwer Lytton, and have jobs for people like Mark McKinnon because storytelling is the most powerful tool we have in our hands, and it’s a tool that most people forget that they have.
Your story, any well crafted narrative, can be used as currency to buy the hearts and minds of those around you. We are thinking people, but I find that from moment to moment we are typically feeling people.
It is more powerful and influential than sheer force, than hatred or violence. In fact, it is the story that convinces us to resort to such practices. A story that revolves around the theme of fear and gives you the script to identify heroes and villains
“Take away the sword, States can be saved without it,” meaning that they can be saved by the pen, but it is my belief that they can also be destroyed by it. Destroyed by narratives that feed off fear instead of hope, which unfortunately seems to be the growing trend in this age.