Friday, October 20, 2006

The Power of Words

And I tell you this, you must give an account on judgment day for every idle word you speak. -Jesus Christ
Words matter. We've all heard the saying: "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me." This pithy little phrase is offered up as solace to those who are on the receiving end of hurtful words. I don't know who came up with this moronic aphorism, but it is far from the truth. Words can hurt, and they can hurt more than sticks and stones. In time physical wounds heal, but the emotional wounds of words can last a lifetime.

Do the words you speak and write do more good than harm? Will Rogers once said, "Never miss a good chance to shut up." The older I get the more I realize the wisdom of this comment. Once words leave your mouth (or you hit "send" on that email message), you can't take it back. Words matter. They can harm or help. They can wound or encourage.

My mother used to tell me, "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all." While not as odious as the "sticks and stones" mantra, this bit of advice is simply not practical in many situations. Nobody likes someone who is intentionally mean or rude, and kindness goes a long way in getting your message heard, but how do we use words wisely in those not-so-nice situations? Should we say nothing at all to a spouse that has bad breath or a child that is misbehaving?

Sometimes the most important words we can speak are not so nice. Confronting a friend about a drug or alcohol problem might not be a nice conversation, but wouldn't it be better to say something instead of letting that friend self-destruct? The words we choose in dealing with not-so-nice or difficult situations are frequently the words that matter most. In times like this when emotions are high and the potential for conflict is imminent, the words we choose can change the course of a life or relationship.

So where is the balance? Once again I think that Jesus provided the answer to this question in Ephesians chapter 4 when he talked about speaking the truth in love. Speaking the truth in love isn't about sugar coating the message. True love is about putting the needs of someone else ahead of your own needs. If we speak the truth in love, we are not trying to win the argument just to show we are right.

Speaking the truth in love is about telling the truth even when it hurts or offends as long as it is done with the best interests of the other person at heart. There is no room for mean-spiritedness or judmentalism in such a conversation, and sometimes the truth is hard to hear. However, if the objective is seeking the truth then there is no other way to go about it.

... more thoughts on Word Power ....