In his memorial speech in Tucson, Ariz., last week, President Obama asked for more civil discourse. Other recent public speakers have sought to make people aware that both what they say and how they say it can invite reaction that may be harmful. Thinking about the power of the spoken word, I was immediately transported in thought to the home I grew up in. While working in the kitchen, my sister and I often audibly fought with each other. “Watch your words,” our mother would caution.
Over the years I’ve gained a positive side to that warning: Gentle words tend to bring peace to thought and action. As the Bible says, “Let your speech be alway with grace” (Col. 4:6). This doesn’t mean we have to ignore wrongdoing or refuse to stand up for what we believe. Rather, it’s a recognition of Jesus’ command that we should love our neighbors as ourselves. Jesus’ love was from the Christ, the spiritual reality of God’s goodness and each individual’s unity with the divine. When the love of the Christ guides our speech, our words become healing words.
Today when radio, television, and the Internet constantly supply us with words to listen to, alertness will help us discern which statements are healing and unifying and which are not. Just the tone of a comment can often soothe hurt feelings or, unfortunately, incite discord. When the latter threatens, prayer is an essential response. No matter where we are, even in the midst of a meeting or other gathering, we can pray not only for our own peace but also insist that God’s purpose, which leads only to good, will prevail.
It’s important to cultivate a genuine listening ear, as well as to be careful of what we put into others’ ears. I can’t count the times that someone has come to me with hurt feelings over what another has said. In many cases, upon analyzing the words, it’s clear that they were open to interpretation and may not have meant what the hearer had thought and took offense to.
This reinforces the point that we need to be sure of what we really are thinking before giving it utterance. An old axiom makes this point: “Think more and talk less.” Since our thoughts drive our words, the real challenge is to ensure that our thinking has a healing component. Then, even in difficult situations, we will be able to help instead of harm others by our words.
The King James Version of the Bible notes, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). There have been slightly differing interpretations of that statement, but the fact remains that it was the divine Word that brought forth creation. This “Word” had, and has, to be thought before anything is created.
Mary Baker Eddy, who discovered and founded Christian Science, spoke of the Word of God reverently, and advised, “We must resolve to take up the cross, and go forth with honest hearts to work and watch for wisdom, Truth, and Love” (“Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” p. 15). Words of “wisdom, Truth, and Love,” thought and uttered, bring healing to our conversations, especially when we are willing to pause and wait for those healing words to come to thought before we open our mouths. We don’t have to fill every silence with words. Rather, we can use quiet times to pray for more spiritual understanding – and better words.