“A gentle response deflects fury, but a harsh word makes tempers rise. The tongue of the wise presents knowledge well, but the mouth of a fool spews out folly. …A soothing tongue is a tree of life, but when it [the tongue] twists things, it breaks the spirit.”
(Proverbs 15:1-2 ,4 CJB)
Our words matter. Our tone of voice matters. What we say to one another and how we say it can build someone up or tear them down. Our words can defuse a problem or a conflict, or they can escalate it. They can hurt or they can heal. Ellen, one of our students on the School Chaplaincy module, gave us a brilliant ‘Time for Reflection’ practice event in our class this week on the topic of ‘Conflict’. She emphasised the way in which the words and the labels we use of others can de-humanise them. Her plea was to use our words to re-humanise. A sad feature of modern politics and debate seems to be the way in which those of differing opinion don’t just de-humanise their opponents but intentionally use words and images and metaphors to demonise others. The popularity of the poignant #bekind meme seems to be sadly fading to be replaced with criticisms and cruelties. Words have become weapons far more dangerous and hurtful than sticks and stones.
One of John Wesley’s Journal entries carries an incredibly contemporary feel: “I met those of our society who had votes in the ensuing election, and advised them 1. To vote, without fee or reward, for the person they judged most worthy 2. To speak no evil of the person they voted against, and 3. To take care their spirits were not sharpened against those that voted on the other side.” (Journal, 6th October, 1774). We are a people of The Word. The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. The Word dwells in us. The Word speaks through us. Our words matter in every daily encounter and in every interaction, not only in Politics.
Lord, help us choose our words carefully and speak them gently. Help us find words that encourage, rather then discourage; words that build up, rather than tear down; words that respect others, rather than disrespect them. Lord, help us to re-humanise rather than de-humanise.