Words for sledging and words for healing
Last week, Nick Kyrgios’ sledge towards Stanislas Wawrinka in a fairly minor tennis match caused some storm in the tennis world and amongst the media. Back in September 2014, there was great furore when Alan Jones made a remark about the death of (former prime minister) Julia Gillard's late father, whom Jones asserted “died of shame”. Oh really? Words may not only be offensive, but sometimes they can just be plainly unjust. Lots of pressure was put on Jones to apologise. These episodes raise the question about acceptable use of our words, we sense “words” do hurt. We believe that “words” have the power to build up and pull down/hurt others. It can go both ways. All this is compelling evidence that our society doesn’t believe the saying:
“Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.”
But what words build others up, or what words simply don’t hurt and ‘can just stay on the tennis court’? And how do you know? Language changes, words take on different meanings over time and some grow in their impact, while the impact of other words seem to decline. For example some labels for people which were in common use 50 years ago, are no longer acceptable today.
The journey to find the right words is not one where we simply look inside ourselves to discover them, we actually take on what has impact, positive and negative, and adjust accordingly. By looking towards others, we are accepting guidance, and protocols from outside ourselves. Therefore producing not a bunch of morally isolated people, but a group of interconnected people with influence towards each other. In such a system the individual is not the exclusive source of our individual morality, rather I’m willingly placing myself under another. The assumption here of course is that I’m willing to use words to build up rather than tear down. The curious thing about such an approach is the inconsistency it creates to the commonly held cultural narrative about the sovereign self. Such feeling is summed up poetically and to music in the movie Frozen (in the song ‘Let It Go’):
"It's time to see what I can do,
to test the limits and break through.
No right, no wrong, no rules for me.
I wonder how free Kyrgios and Jones actually are with their words; and so by logical extension, what about you and me?!? The freedom angle would be interesting to explore, however the main argument here relates to our source (or perhaps sources?) which govern our word usage. How far are we willing to go to allow something outside of our own persons to govern how we use words? I think it’s clear that if we do want to be heard (communicate clearly) and want to encourage and build up, then immediately we are not a moral islands as we use language. We are willing to give up an absolute freedom (if one exists) to use any words we like: we can achieve great freedom to communicate clearly and effectively. To desire to communicate clearly and to build up, is to embrace the ancient scripture:
“The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.”
Each of us answer how much we let those around us influence what words we use—and how we use them. We have to simply engage all in communication. The question then, for everyone, is do we blow about in the wind or is there something more universal, something that is over cultures, something applicable to all people, in all places, at all times that ought to influence the use of words?
At this point Jesus is good news for all of us. How? Well one of Jesus most remarkable descriptions in the Bible is that he is ‘the Word’. That’s still weird right, so how is this good news? Well as Jesus is declared ‘the Word’, God is declaring his word to the world in a person who has life and brings life to the full. Which is something like contentment in the face of struggles, or security in the face of vulnerability—the list actually goes on. So once we admit that our use of words is formed by things outside of us, the good news is that there is no better source for a life giving and healing way to use words than Jesus.
Perhaps we can adopt a new saying:
“Sticks and stones may break my bones but a word from Jesus will heal me and show me how my words can heal others.”
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