Living Columns & Blogs

Understanding the power of words

It’s easier to be a critic than it is an encourager or an advocate; there’s so much to criticize these days. That’s why the old adage “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all” says it all. Too bad so many people have forgotten that. It’s open season on anyone and everyone who holds a differing opinion about anything.

It’s terribly sad, because we’ve become what we’re trying to fight in our schools — we’ve become bullies. With our loud aggressive voices, personal smears, innuendos, and violence, or intimidation either by sheer number, sex, ethnicity or expletives, we’ve stopped or stifled reasonable dialogue from occurring. We’ve chosen to attack people rather than words, ideas or policies. In short, we commit murder. And we keep on doing it daily and with impunity and never give it a second thought.

Let me illustrate: While watching cable news recently, one of the talking heads directed a question to a guest pundit concerning a high-ranking government official who reportedly did something the other party was questioning. This talking head posed a “question” in the form of a statement, which cast guilt toward the official in question, then said he wasn’t suggesting guilt. Well, the damage was already done. The talking head, rather than objectively reporting, used his words to cast disparagement upon the official. By placing seeds of doubt about his motives and innocence, questioning his character and integrity and revealing his personal bias, he indicted, convicted and passed judgment. But then tried to backpedal by saying he wasn’t suggesting guilt. I thought, “You just killed the guy in front of millions of viewers, misused your position to reveal your own biased opinion and passed judgment on his character and integrity.” To watch and listen to this type of character assassination from every media outlet and form is painful and becoming way too common. But tragically, this type of thing is not limited to those “outside” the community of Christ followers.

Most people wouldn’t pull a gun and randomly commit homicide, but we have no problem calling others “stupid,” “idiot” or some other descriptive expletive if they cross us in some way, do we? And while many may view Holy Scripture as archaic and out of touch for our modern world, Matthew 5: 21-22 addresses this fuller understanding of murder and James 3: 3-5 the power of the tongue and words. Not to mention insights to the heart in Psalms and Proverbs.

All this to say that words and how we use them matter. They are like bullets, always at the ready to be loaded into our mouth to roll off our tongue, energized by the motives of the heart and the energy of the moment. They’re just beneath the surface of our will waiting for any reason to unload. But way too often we forget words are powerful. They’re either life taking or life giving depending on how they’re used. And no one is immune to their power.

In our country, we are afforded a great deal of freedom and personal liberty but we still have a responsibility to be a good citizen guided by a moral compass whose foundation is rooted in something deeper than our own personal desires, opinions, choices or cultural scene. So, when the world is acting with little restraint and “everybody” is mouthing off with their comments and opinions in an aggressive and verbally violent way, as Christ followers, we need to exercise the restraint afforded us by the Holy Spirit. Why you ask? Because we are to be utterly different than the world around us.

I’m not suggesting we can’t have heated debate, differing opinions or hotly held positions, or even protect ourselves if we have to. But let’s avoid physical and verbal attacks or intimidation as first line strategy. Let’s attack issues, not people. And oh by the way, let’s be sure to check our motives and reasons before we post our comment or hit the “like” button. Just because everyone else is giving their two cents doesn’t mean we have to.

The Rev. Norm Hooven can be reached at revnorm@