Writing that moves readers to action

Earlier this summer, a friend and I exchanged emails which included the word “radical” (excerpted below).  My response offered observations about the current day usage of that word.

From:  MM on Wed. July 3rd
Happy 4th  I love the Declaration of Independence and feel like walking around asking people to sign; I wonder if they would recognize or think I was some type of radical.

From:  ME on Thurs. July 4th
Happy 4th to you as well.  Your love of the holiday – and desire to inspire/motivate – brings a grin to my face.  If you are labeled radical by some, I’d definitely be proud to say “you’re my favorite radical”!!  The term “radical” seems to have become the new attitude toward “engaged spirit.”  I so appreciate you holding your values and beliefs up so high for others to see – and catch wind of!!


This exchange, of course, ignited my intrigue with the word “radical” and all that surrounds it – history, meanings, and potential ways to interpret or define the word.  For as long as I can remember, this word, for me, has created images of external political unrest and turmoil.  Despite numerous definitions, I wonder if others might also be influenced by the 1960’s movement (or even current worldwide activities), and, therefore, still hold a certain perspective on the word?  I also wonder if it might be possible that instead of (or even in addition to) this external image, unrest and turmoil might now be held and manifest internally – thus driving the potential to inspire or result in real change?

As is in my nature, I felt an urge to research and learn more about the word’s origin and to attempt to gain a deeper understanding of my impression or interpretation of the word to mean “engaged spirit.”

First, I started with the more challenging part – how to understand and wrap one’s arms around what appears to be such a tiny word (only 7 letters) yet which seems capable of tapping into and attempting to explain a vast array of items in a multitude of arenas – math, chemistry, medicine, politics, linguistics, personal constitution, thought processes and so much more. 

My exploration then led me to the history and a brief explanation of the word’s origin: 

radical (adj.)
late 14c., in a medieval philosophical sense, from Late Latin radicalis “of or having roots,” from Latin radix (genitiveradicis) “root” (see radish). Meaning “going to the origin, essential” is from 1650s.  Radical sign in mathematics is from 1680s.  Political sense of “reformist” (via notion of “change from the roots”) is first recorded 1802 (n.),  1817 (adj.), of the extreme section of the British Liberal party (radical reform had been a current phrase since 1786); meaning “unconventional” is from 1921. U.S. youth slang use is from 1983, from 1970s surfer slang meaning “at the limits of control.” Radical chic is attested from 1970; popularized, if not coined, by Tom Wolfe. Radical empiricism coined 1897 by William James (see empiricism).

radical (n.)
1630s, “root part of a word, from radical (adj.) Political sense from 1802; chemical sense from 1816.

As I continued to be drawn to this word, a page (243) in Jim Wallis’ book offered his re-presentation of the definition and history along with his viewpoint:

“Growing roots is a radical act.  The word radical comes from the Latin word radis which means roots.  Roots represent the center, the heart, the basis from which plants, ideas, religions and even countries draw life.  When in response to a challenge we choose to grown roots, it means we choose to move past what is on the surface and dig beneath to the source.  It is a place of strength because we set the terms and determine for ourselves how we should act in the future instead of letting the challenge determine our reaction.  Growing roots is based in hope, because it shows strength and a belief that those challenges will be overcome.

 We have the opportunity to grow and strengthen roots by…”

In the end…after all this searching…it’s easy for me to see how this word could mean many things to many people.   For myself…I believe the word is resurfacing because modern times beckon us to approach life and it’s daily (and purpose-filled) events from a very different perspective – for example from an altered or engaged perspective – possibly one that encourages movement and growth or even one that actually creates change in our lives and the lives of others in and around us and the world.

I consistently find that quotes and passages shared by others provide useful tools to help ground me and re-gain focus.  Quotes and passages seem to offer a “red carpet” of sorts – one that provides regal and firm grounding to move along the path.  Reflecting on these powerfully diverse definitions and the history surrounding the word “radical” cause the following passages to re-surface:

― John O’DonohueAnam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom
“Your soul knows the geography of your destiny. Your soul alone has the map of your future; therefore you can trust this indirect, oblique side of yourself. If you do, it will take you where you need to go, but more important it will teach you a kindness of rhythm in your journey.”

“The longest and most exciting journey is the journey inward.”

“I would love to live like a river flows, carried by the surprise of its own unfolding.”

― Author Unknown
“The critical shift in growth comes when desire for change is greater than fear of the process.”

 John O’DonohueEternal Echoes: Celtic Reflections on Our Yearning to Belong
“One of the most beautiful gifts in the world is the gift of encouragement. When someone encourages you, that person helps you over a threshold you might otherwise never have crossed on your own.”

― Shakti Gawain, Living in the Light
“The universe rewards you for taking risks on its behalf.”

Hmmm…maybe a little “radical” but, in the end, I genuinely hope the ideas passed along through this blog and these quotes in some way help inspire you to be bold and courageous as you allow yourself to move in the direction of becoming a “radical spirit” and elect to pursue a deeper and more “radical” path for yourself.


© 2013 EMCarlock
The Write Resources, LLC™

images.yourdictionary.com ; online-behavior.com

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