In a moment everything changed and it no longer mattered what you may have been doing before, what you may have had your eyes set on; all you wanted to do now was run into the nearest bushes and stay there or find the nearest beach and lay with your face in the sand for a loooong time?
Remember the time that a word rolled of someone's tongue that changed your entire disposition in a flash? We have all experienced it at some time; where someone's words took us from one frame of mind to a vastly different one. Sometimes these words have been directed at us and other times we have born witness to them being directed towards another; but, at the end of the day I think we can all recall an instance where we have heard something not too dissimilar to … 'that's a stupid idea' … 'they're ugly' … 'useless' … 'you would never be able to do that!' … you get the gist.
How is it that a few simple words could tear us to pieces? Could flip us out entirely as though we had just been hit in the flank?
Simply, words have power.
A thought crossed my mind the other day that words can be both flat and yet have considerable dimension depending on their context. Confused?
Ok, let me explain. Consider the following words 'look on the road ahead'. You are reading this for the first time on a piece of paper or an electronic screen, there is no voice behind it, no tone, no body language, no literary context. They read well, however they have little to no meaning or relative importance.
Now consider this; a man is walking down the street with sweat pouring down his forehead he is stressed and tired and blindly steps onto the road without thinking. At the same time a young married couple are cruising down this very road in their new car; the husband looks over to his wife and throws her a smile. Suddenly, she releases a spine tingling shriek 'Look on the road ahead!' that instantly draws her husband's attention to the road in just enough time for him to wrench the wheel and swerve past the man who is on the road, missing him by a single hair. What do the words mean now? They are a cry of terror. They call for an instantaneous shift in the direction of one's attention. They… ok, you get the picture.
Alternatively, a young girl, maybe five or six, is sitting in the backseat of a family wagon. Her mother is driving the car at a slow 60km/hour. The windows are down and they are singing along to some fun-loving songs. The mother's eye catches a duck with a brace of ducklings and she calls to her daughter in the back seat 'Look, on the road ahead!' I don't even need to ask; you have already put meaning behind these words.
So admittedly they have gone from flat words with no apparent meaning to words with story, meaning and purpose. Words with dimension. In 'I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings', I think Maya Angelou explains this much better: "Words mean more than what is set down on paper. It takes the human voice to infuse them with shades of deeper meaning."
Spoken words are infused with meaning. They are saturated with an indescribable power that cannot ever truly be measured. Admittedly, as with any other form of power, they come with the ability to shape, to influence, to build and break.
Think about the paradigm that could exist between drugs and words for a moment.
In many instances drugs can be beneficial for the human body. They have the power to heal, to build the human body and even the power to save a life if supplied in the correct context. They are often very tiny, but make an incredibly large impact within the body; much like how a teaspoon of bi-carb soda can raise an entire batch of muffins. Yet, in the same stroke, the flip side of their power is that they may be incredibly harmful. If misused, they have the power to cause sickness, tear down the human body, destroy lives, form addictions and in worst cases be the bringer of death upon an individual.
Words have similar power. In fact, Rudyard Kipling goes so far as to say: "Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind."
It is almost mesmerizing to think about the power of words. To think how the words of another may build you up or so rapidly shatter you into a million pieces within an instant. Not only this, but to be struck with the stark realization that the words that come out of our own mouths could be the difference between a good day and a bad day for another; or in certain circumstances could have much more severe consequences.
There is no dodging the bullet here. Words have power. Now, if you are anything like me, this realization of the power packed into even one individual word is quite discomforting, maybe even alarming; because I believe it screams one thing….
Every time we open our mouths we are tap-dancing on the cusp of something that can build up and offer a spark of positivity or, alternatively, crush and tear down. The writer of Proverbs warns us about this in chapter 12 verse18: "The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing."
Admittedly we say a copious amount of words day in and day out that fly past and have no real impact either way, but there are times where our words can have great impact. Recognizing the dimension our words have and the impact that is possible when we speak, do we not have a great responsibility to use them wisely?
As Christians we are called to be good stewards of the things we are given. Period. Therefore, in this way I believe we are called to be good stewards of the things that come out of our mouths.
Stop for a minute and take the time to consider the following: When was the last time you said something that built someone up? When was the last time you said something that tore someone down?
Let's keep a check on our tongue and the words that we let come out of our mouths and choose to use this gift of speech in life's battles for good and not evil.
"Because even the smallest of words can be the ones to hurt you, or save you." - Natsuki Takaya
Charlotte (Charley) works in youth ministry and is studying a Bachelor of Theology at a bible college in Melbourne. Charley enjoys writing children's stories, playing guitar and dreaming the impossible.
Charley Goiris' previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/charley-goiris.html