Keeping a tight reign on words that kill
September 3, 2004
Have you ever stopped to think about the impact your words have on someone else? You’ve probably heard your mom say “if you don’t have anything nice to say, then don’t say anything at all.”
There’s some wisdom in that statement. Think about how you feel when someone speaks harshly to you, or worse, when they criticize, demean or attack your person. Words have the ability to build us up or tear us down. We have the ability to breathe life or death into others by the words we speak.
I did a study of the word “unwholesome” and its origins are rooted in the words rotting, decaying and death. Isn’t that amazing? No wonder your mom made such a big deal about using swear words.
Now unless your mom was the one doing the swearing, she understood this basic fact, words have the power to build you up or tear you down. Think about some very common words we use, often in jest, to describe others and even ourselves: loser, stupid, lazy, ugly, no good, you’ll never amount to anything.
Has someone ever spoken those words to you before? What about you, have you said these things to others-even in joking? If I take the word “unwholesome” literally, then I must conclude that I’ve directed something rotting, decaying and death producing into someone else’s life. Sobering, isn’t it? Now think about how someone else’s words stay with you. You can convince yourself that they don’t matter but they do.
Every time you feel bad about yourself, say those same words towards yourself or modify your behavior as a result of doubt, shame or fear, you’ve now been influenced by what someone else has said to you. Here are just some of the by-products of speaking these words into someone else’s life: hurt, loneliness, anger, anxiety, shame, hopelessness, depression and insignificance.
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Quite a list, isn’t it? As a result of my becoming more aware of the power of words, I recently attempted to spend one day guarding my words. My goal was two-fold: become more aware of my speech and decrease the death output while increasing the life input. It was probably one of the most challenging tasks I’ve attempted in a long time. I realized how insensitive and careless I was while also being ignorant to my influence over others.
I also learned there isn’t much to hide behind when I focus on myself instead of others. So why do we do it? I think the answer is really quite simple. I know that when I feel afraid or insecure it’s much easier to divert my focus onto others rather than myself.
Since the election season is upon us, what better example is there regarding the use of words and how candidates go after each other. Imagine campaigns focused on issues rather than tearing each other down and breathing death all over the place. It should be no surprise we feel hopeless, anxious, angry and depressed. And it’s not just the political arena.
This applies to all levels of society i.e. education, media, sports, religion, employment and relationships. So what’s the answer? I believe it starts with me. I can either breathe death into someone or choose life. What about you, are you up for the challenge?
— Roy Conover is the pastor of congregational care at the Carson Valley Christian Center