“Water and words are easily poured, impossible to recover.” -Chinese Proverb These words on a cute Mary Engelbreit illustration hung in my classroom most of the time I worked in the school system. I like the word picture that this proverb shows. It is very easy to demonstrate to a child… we can’t take back our words and we can’t scoop up the water.
Growing up in the south we had a million ways to say “be nice” or “say nice things”. More than once I heard from my mother or grandmother, “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” A sign that says, “Silence is golden, duct tape is silver” hangs in my house. Growing up in church, raising my children in church, and being a regular student of the Bible, I know that there are many many verses that talk about our words, what we say to others, and the consequences of not using wisdom with our words.
I am a self proclaimed “word nerd”. I value what is written and spoken. I believe words are important. They have meaning. They have power! With words, I can build a person up or demolish them. I can encourage, instruct, coach, comfort or I can destroy, discourage, belittle, damage all with the words I choose. What a great amount of power that is given to us as humans. This power begins at a very young age… we develop words on average around the age of 2. Parents and teachers know that little ones learn words and language by imitating what they hear. We teach our children to use “nice words”. We talk to them at length about being kind, not calling names, not to gossip about others, and about being honest and truthful. Honestly, I have spent a more time in my parenting, correcting what my children “say” than what they “do”. It’s a battle. Wisdom in the Bible (especially Proverbs) talks about our words and using them correctly. For example: Proverbs 18:21 says “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits”.
When we understand this power, we can use it for good and change or we can use for harm and destruction. I’m big on personal responsibility. I have to own my thoughts, deeds, and words. Make no mistake, I have opinion and / or comment about almost everything I read or see in the news or in social media, but I don’t always share them. My thoughts are not always full of love and grace, so I am learning to keep my big mouth shut if I cannot add value to the conversation. Modeling this for my teenagers is important. They know if I’m being a jerk or gossiping or being snide. They watch, they listen, and they file that away. They see what I share, what makes me laugh, and what I approve. They see if my words of instruction are incongruent with my actions. I do not always guard my tongue, but being more aware of the power of my words… makes me much more careful about what comes out of my mouth or out of my mind onto a post. Don’t get me wrong, I believe there are times to speak up and speak out.
Our society is shifting. We are inundated by WORDS all the time. Words in print, in motion, on TV, on social media… EVERYWHERE! People believe they have the right and sometimes the duty say anything… no matter the harm or the consequences. How do we as a society say out of one side of our mouths, “kindness counts”, “don’t bully”, or “show love and tolerance” and out of the other side of the same cultural mouth: produce, say, allow, tolerate some of the most hateful, horrible, despicable things to be said and shared? How do we as a society pick and choose which hatefulness, crudeness, or filth is labeled “protected by free speech” and which are not?
These are just the thoughts that run through my mind as I navigate the mine fields of social media and entertainment programming. I wonder what has happened to common sense and sensibility and good old fashioned… thinking before you speak?