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How Long Will Your Words Last and Will They Matter to Anyone Else?

Bill Abbate

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Have you ever wondered how long your words will remain after you are gone? I imagine most of us who write have had the thought at some point in our lives.

I find it fascinating that oral tradition ruled through much of history when it came to passing words from one generation to the next. While writing is said to have existed for about 5,500 years, very few could read and write. Only 200 years ago, in 1800, the world literacy rate was 12%. That means nearly nine out of ten people could not read and write!

Even as recent as 1900, the world literacy rate was only 21%! It was not until 1950 that about half of the people in the world were able to read and write. Today, the world literacy rate stands at 87%.

It was only in the last century the written word became widely available and affordable. Don't you find it astounding mankind has gone from oral tradition to the written word becoming so widely available so quickly? In this small fraction of man's existence, we have gone from oral tradition beyond the word written on paper to storing it in electronic devices!

How long will our words last?

Let's get back to our original discussion – how long will our words last? The sun is estimated to be midway through its life and will exhaust the fuel in its core in another 5 billion years. However, the earth will be inhabitable for "only" another 1.75 to 3.25 billion years. Could our written words last as long as the earth?

Who can know such things? A hundred years ago, no one could have dreamed of the current state of the written word. What will happen in the next hundred years is anyone's guess?

But be of good cheer; your words will likely outlast you by many, many years! I can assure you they will be around in their current form or in some future form. So long as man exists on this planet, he will make sure words continue to be recorded in some form. Words are the glue that holds mankind together, after all!

While all the words you and I write may not have significance in the future, some of them will. Especially the words of wisdom we write. Be assured; people will read those words for centuries to come. Look at how the words of wisdom from ancient philosophers and wise men such as Solomon date back 3000 years and continue to be as meaningful today as they were then. That is what makes them words of wisdom – their meaning and endurance.

Final words

Why not pour your heart into the words you write? There is wisdom inside you, and someone in the future will desire and seek it out if you write it. What kind of legacy will you leave to those who follow you? Those in your family and bloodline? Words for your children, grandchildren, and their children's children, which you may never meet. Yet they can meet you through your words. There will be those who will want to read wonderful stories from long ago as we do today. Imagine the legacy you could leave. Wow! Now that is something to give some thought!

I know of no better way to wrap up this brief essay than with the following words from a famous American psychologist:

"Colors fade, temples crumble, empires fall, but wise words endure." Edward Thorndike (1874-1949)

Watch this short YouTube video that provides a little history about Thorndike's famous cat experiment if you have a few minutes. Edward Thorndike cats experiment (behavioral psychology).

Write from your heart with future generations in mind. Who knows how what you write might one day influence someone that changes the world!

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Semi-Retired-Leadership/Executive Coach -Personal & Career Growth Expert -Editor and Leadership Writer at Illumination -Author

Richmond, VA
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