“Some people make cutting remarks, but the words of the wise bring healing.”
We were told a lie as we were growing up. “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” It sounded like a good retort to a verbal bully but the truth is that words did hurt us. They did so because words have power. God created by the spoken word and blasphemy against the Holy Spirit brings destruction. Read the Letter of James chapter 3 on taming the tongue and you will want to enter a Cistercian monastery. Which reminds me of an old joke.
A novice enters a monastery and is told that before he is allowed to make his life vows he must spend three years in silence. The only exception is that he will meet with the abbot once a year and is allowed to say only two words. At the end of the first year of silence, he is called before the abbot. The abbot asks, “How is your time here so far?” To which the novice replies, “Bed hard.” The abbot nods and dismisses the novice. At the end of the second year he appears before the abbot again, who asks the same question. The novice says “Food bad.” At the end of the third year the scene repeats itself and to the same question the novice says “Church cold.” The abbot shakes his head and says, “I’m afraid being a monk is not going to work out for you. All you have done since you have been here is complain, complain, complain.”
Words have power and we must learn to be good stewards of that power. It seems to me that our culture is becoming increasingly crude. We hear words used today in mixed company that would not have been tolerated years ago. Some forms of “music” are filled with such vile that they rot the soul. Social media has a steady stream of profanity and ad hominem attacks, particularly by those who ironically champion tolerance and diversity. Last week on my day off I watched an Irish comedy/mystery, which would have been delightful if they had not dropped the f bomb every other sentence. I don’t offend easily but it did sadden me for the image that it gave to my ancestral land. The impression was that the Irish are so cretinous that they no of no other adjectives, which is simply not true of a people who are famous for their way with words.
I am not sure which is the chicken and which is the egg. Do we speak so crassly because we are on a decline, or are we on a decline because we speak so crassly? Either way, a positive step would be to use words that bring healing and avoid words that tear down. There is a passage in Ephesians 4 that gives us a great guide for how we should use our words. “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.” (New American Standard Version). If before we speak, we ask ourselves if what we are about to say will bring grace to those who hear it, we will go a long way towards being part of the solution instead of part of the problem. Words have power. Use them carefully.