Even the kindest souls can do it and probably we’ve all done it at some time or another - used words carelessly. Rather than thinking first, we speak and then think later. It might be an on-the-spur-of-the-moment quip at someone else’s expense or an outburst of irritation that sends words like heat-seeking missiles and the damage is done. The result? A look of pain on the face of the person receiving it or bringing a sharp repost and a cooling in a relationship as trust feels damaged. Regret will follow but if words are tossed around like matches, eventually they will find something to ignite and a measure of destruction begins. Words are not to be used to harm others as a fencer gone berserk might use a sword lacerating all those around or as lighted matches thrown carelessly. Maybe you’ve been on the receiving end more recently than being the one discharging those sharp words. Either way, reflect a little on the way you’ve given and received words for their impact is considerable.
- ‘Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will make me go in a corner and cry by myself for hours’ - Eric Idle
- ‘Insults, like arrows, can pierce through the heart and bring you down to your knees’ - from a poem by ‘Fancy-Girl’
- ‘It's hard to make out the difference between insults and bad advice’ - Cass McCombs
- ‘It has been said that time heals all wounds. I don't agree. The wounds remain. Time - the mind, protecting its sanity - covers them with some scar tissue and the pain lessens, but it is never gone’ - Rose Kennedy
The original anonymous old adage, ‘Sticks and stones may break my bones but your words will never hurt me’ has sometimes been used to try helping victims stand up against bullies. Trouble is, the adage is just not true as testified by Eric Idle. It doesn’t matter whether the words are spoken or electronic, they can shoot out just as fast winging their way to the target immediately, sometimes by-passing the brain. Conventional wisdom was to ‘sleep on a letter’ before sending it - many is the letter that was reworded or never sent as a result of that insight. Social media carries many wounding words tapped in by those who are ‘trigger happy’ and, worse still, by ‘trolls’. Language and speech is a precious gift to be used well and not abused. Consider how some of your relationships could have been strengthened by using encouragement and kindness rather than damaged through harshness and condemnation.
- ‘The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing’ - Proverbs 12:18
- ‘Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few’ - Ecclesiastes 5:2
- ‘Set a guard over my mouth, Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips’ - Psalm 141:3
- ‘Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be’ - James 3:10
If it is wise to look before you leap, then it is also wise to think before you speak! Here’s a mnemonic which is a helpful guide to have in mind before opening the mouth:
- T - is it True?
- H - is it Helpful?
- I - is it Inspiring?
- N - is it Necessary?
- K - is it Kind?
If everyone followed this, there’d be far fewer careless unkind words bandied around. God never used careless words for they are to bless us and this is manifested supremely in his Living Word, in whom we find the way, the truth and the life. As it is from the overflow of what is in our hearts that our mouths speak, so a mind filled with love for God and for our neighbour will lead to blessing. The Psalmist brings us a great prayer to help with this: ‘May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer’ - Psalm 19:14. It’s not too late to apply this speech improvement, to say sorry for careless words, to ask for help to remove swearing and coarse language. This will help to put out some fires and to avert other ones.
TAGS – kindness, Godliness, holiness, character, friendship, honour, esteem