Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Open Sesame

Open sesame, one of the most celebrated magic phrases, held enough power for Ali Baba to shift boulders and open a passage into the unknown. This colorful, centuries-old fable points to a literal truth about the power and importance of magic words:
We know that words cannot move mountains, but they can move the multitude. . . . Words shape thought, stir feeling, and beget action; they kill and revive, corrupt and cure. The “men of words”—priests, prophets, intellectuals—have played a more decisive role in history than military leaders, statesmen, and businessmen.
Words and magic are particularly crucial in time of crisis when old forms of life are in dissolution and man must grapple with the unknown. Normal motives and incentives lose then their efficacy. Man does not plunge into the unknown in search of the prosaic and matter-of-fact. His soul has to be stretched by reaching out for the fabulous and unprecedented. He needs the nurse of magic and breath-taking fairy tales to lure him on and sustain him in his faltering first steps. Even modern science and technology were not in the beginning a sober pursuit of facts and knowledge. Here, too, the magicians—alchemists, astrologers, visionaries—were the pioneers.
—Eric Hoffer, The Ordeal of Change (1976)
From ideology to science, from spiritualism to cultural revolutions, words open passages into the unknown. And anyone, whether leader or follower, for whom discourse serves as a first step to unexplored territory, is an Ali Baba, a personal pioneer.

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