For many years, the Reader’s Digest has featured a section designed to test and improve your vocabulary. The name of that popular article has changed from “It Pays to Enrich Your Word Power” to “Word Power,” but the feature section has persisted through the years because people instinctively recognize that words do indeed have power.
As we are passing through another political season, I can’t help but think how many of us have squandered, devalued, or darkened the words we use, and by doing so, have lessened ourselves. Through name calling, dishonesty, threats, bullying, hate speech, in attempts to raise up some by taking away from others, we have emptied our own words of meaning, and lost bits of our integrity. Once we have sacrificed our integrity to the expediency of gaining our purpose, or supporting our cause or person, how do we get it back? How can we earn back what we took for granted and trashed?
When what we do and how we look and how we spend our time and money is consistent with our words, then our words are authoritative, persuasive and powerful. One does not have to listen to a person, or read their works, for very long before you sense the flavor of their words and the integrity they carry with them when spoken.
In addition to the damage we may do to ourselves with words, we are constantly exposed to negative people who either thoughtlessly or intentionally lay some negative word on us. We need to remember that we do not have to accept their negative view as our own. There is no reason why we should allow one moment of one day of our lives to be defined by words that have been bled dry of faith and hope, or words that have had all the love wrung out of them, words spoken without integrity, in hate to bring about our destruction, or hurt those we love.
I have often heard the story of Gen. Robert E. Lee who had a general that never ceased to criticize and speak ill of him. One day at a high level staff meeting, Lee was asked to give an evaluation of that general to President Jefferson Davis. Lee praised the general as one of the most capable men in the Confederate Army.
After the meeting, one of Lee’s aides pulled him aside and said: “General Lee, how could you give such a commendation of that man? Surely you must know how often and unfairly he has spoken ill of you!”
“Yes,” said Lee. “I know what he has said of me, but the President asked for my opinion of him, not his opinion of me.”
Watch your words! Words are powerful, and often say more about the speaker than the situations
James 3:5-6 (KJV):
5 Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth!
6 And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell.
The Rev. Walter Van Zandt Windsor is rector at Trinity Episcopal Church.
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