Sticks and Stones
“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” is a lie. There is far more truth in the words of Eric Idle, a British comedian of the Monty Python ensemble, who said, “sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will make me cry by myself in a corner for hours.”
Far from being innocuous, our words have great power: to heal, to encourage, or to tear down. So it is no trivial thing when James writes, “How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell.” (James 3:5-6, click here for the full passage).
And if the tongue has such power, it is essential that we as the Christian community recognize this power and take great care in how we use it. This reminds us to be careful how we speak with one another and to strive to use our words to build up and not to tear down. This does not mean that every word is sweetness, but that our genuine purpose is building up one another. Many a cruel thing has been justified by “I’m just speaking the truth…” Or as southern belle’s are oft quoted, any sort of nasty gossip is covered by “Well, bless his/her heart…” Ask yourself honestly, what do you seek to accomplish with these words?
Sometimes we don’t even realize the harm our words do. I’ve seen many loving, caring parents use empty threats in the moment to stop this or that behavior, not considering that in doing so they are also teaching their children that they cannot be counted on, that consequences are not real and that it is ok to use language simply to manipulate a response. None of this is intended, but such can often be the result of the careless use of words.
To further complicate this, we often mis-hear or mis-interpret what others say, and they misunderstand our words or intent. There is no easy formula. Even silence can speak volumes, for good or ill.
All this calls us to be thoughtful and careful about how we use words. Strive so speak with love, honesty, and clarity. Pay attention to how your words impact others. Listen carefully to others and give them the benefit of the doubt. Ask before assuming.
Pray that God will give you the grace to be His instrument in every word you say.
This column is from the September 16, 2018 issue of St. John’s eNews. Click here for the complete issue.
If you are reading this at a different time, you may click here for the current eNews.