Most of the time I can believe that what I say to the people I talk and share with is kind and gentle but if I really sit with that for a time, I, like many of you, might find that what sounds like kindness to our ears is painful to others.
My theory is that most people speak before thinking. Most of the time the thought pops into our head and it comes out our mouth before a second has passed. I know the human mind is amazing but do you really know what you say each time you speak or better than that, would you remember what you said yesterday to a friend and colleague?
There is a saying that fits well in this scenario but yet of a different nature; “the best laid plans go astray”. The best of our thoughts and intentions get lost in the words and most certainly in the translation of the one who is listening.
I believe in the good of humankind. People aren’t out to hurt me with their words, though some do. I feel that words are dangerous when used haphazardly. Words can maim a person for life. In fact, words have been known to cause death in certain individuals, especially when they were followed by war. Whoever said “but words can never hurt me” quite obviously was never engaged in a verbal slinging match. One of those knock-down drag-out word wars where you’re slapped upside the head by dangling participles, knocked unconscious by misplaced modifiers, and flailed by flying sentence fragments. There are those pesky grammar addicts that are word warriors. They toss those million-dollar words around, when a two-cent word would work just as well. These big words weigh a ton. And when they hit you it’s like a boulder crashed into you but you can’t quite figure out what struck you. There are people who cannot go for twenty-four hours without saying unkind words about others. They have lost control over their tongue. I compare the harm done by gossip or a few unpleasant words to the damage caused by alcohol and smoking? I have both smoked many years and also had my fair share of drinks and though I do not partake now, I know that damage that it caused my body.
Think about your own life for a minute. Unless you or someone dear to you, has been the victim of terrible physical violence, chances are the worst pains you have suffered in life have come from words used cruelly – from excessive anger, sarcasm, public and private humiliation, hurtful name calling, betrayal of secrets and malicious gossip.
One reason that many people use words irresponsibly is that they regard the injuries inflicted by words as intangible and in their own minds can minimize the damage. As youngsters we taunted playmates or have been taunted by them until we learned the phrase about the stick and stones and words not hurting but the truth of the matter is that words and names can and do hurt.
A word, once said, cannot be unsaid. Words can be used to inflict suffering; I compare cruel words to murder. A thief can return the money he has stolen; a murderer, no matter how sincerely he repents, cannot restore his victim to life.
One who hurts another through words and gossip or humiliates another publicly can never undo the damage. Words are very powerful. The Bible teaches that God created the world through words.
At the beginning of Genesis we learn, “And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.” Human beings, like God, also create with words. The fact is that most of us have had the experience of reading a novel and being so moved by what happens to a character that we have cried, even though the character doesn’t exist.
All that happened was that writer took a blank piece of paper, put words on it, and through words alone created a human being so totally real that he or she is capable of evoking our deepest emotions. Words are powerful enough to lead to love, but they can also lead to hatred and terrible pain. We must be extremely careful how we use them.
Rev. Suzie Chamness served as Senior Pastor of Spirit of Life MCC of New Port Richey, Fla., beginning in 2009, having been a Volunteer Clergy for the Congregational Care Ministry at King of Peace, St. Petersburg, Florida and worked as Chaplain at Bon Scours Maria Manor Care Facility also in St. Petersburg. She completed her Masters of Divinity at the Florida Center for Theological Studies in June 2006 and ordained in August of that year.