I never make political statements in this blog, and I am not going to start now – which might leave you relieved or frustrated, but it is the choice I make! This week however, amid all the angry scenes from parliament and the resulting political commentary, there has emerged a helpful discussion around the importance of the language we use and its impact on behaviour. It is a very important topic. Words really do matter.
What struck me though, in addition, was the impact of words that are not spoken, which can be equally significant. Whilst I applaud care in the use of words and agree with the call, not just in a public setting, to use measured, thoughtful and respectful language, damage can also be done by the withholding of words. People often comment when someone dies about the things they wished they had said before it was too late. Honest conversations sometimes need to be had instead of allowing simmering unvoiced resentment. There are families where damaging secrets flourish, because questions are never asked and silence is the norm.
More positively, children need to be told regularly that they are loved. Even as adults, all too often words of encouragement are not expressed which would boost our confidence in who we are or what we have done. A simple ‘thank you’ or ‘well done’ can mean a great deal.
People of faith can, sadly, occasionally be reticent to speak well both of and to others fearing that the recipients of their positive words might fall victim to pride. Yet if God lavishes his love upon us, as John puts it in one of his New Testament letters (1 John 3:1), presumably one expression of that is us being equally generous in our spoken expressions of care, support and love. Words are not the only way to express that of course, and it has to be genuine, but for some of us at least it is a love language that we need and cherish, and the dearth of them can crush our spirits. I’m not surprised that research has suggested that we need to hear five or six positive comments to allow us to carefully consider one criticism.
So yes, let’s choose our words with care. But let’s not keep silent either when the words we speak could be so important and life-giving to those around us.