Watch your mouth
15th April 2013 · 0 Comments
By Edmund W. Lewis
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” —John 1:1
Never underestimate the power of words.
That’s a lesson I learned years ago. There’s no denying the power that words have. That’s why the elders used to tell members of my generation, “Watch your mouth, child.” Whether you’re talking about prayers, wishes or curses, words and their utterers have the power to bring things into being.
An example that comes to mind is the word “Amen,” which is Kemetic (Egyptian) for “So be it.” That word has traveled across time and space and is used routinely in houses of worship throughout the Western hemisphere and the rest of the world.
But few of us really reflect on the meaning of the word.
Amen has evolved to have many meanings. When used by someone who is jubilant, Amen can be roughly translated to mean “Thank you, Lord!” It is also used often when individuals want to say, “You said it, Brother!” when employed in response to some profound or truthful statement made by a friend, acquaintance, minister or speaker.
Without really understanding why, some people instinctively recognize and respect the power and potential danger of words. Words can be used to heal and to kill, to build and to destroy. It’s all in the spirit in which words are used and the intent of the utterer.
One of the biggest concerns I have about the use and misuse of words involves the word “hate” and the way it is flung around carelessly these days. Hate used to really mean something. I can remember a time years ago when if you said you hated somebody, you hated somebody. But nowadays, hate is just another word for dislike or jealousy.
I remember laughing out loud a few years ago when one New Orleans mayoral candidate accused his opponent of “playa-hating” on him during a televised debate because the first candidate had collected a considerable number of political endorsements.
I’ve been guilty of this myself, using the word hate when I didn’t really mean it, even though I know the considerable weight the word carries. There was a time when “hate” was something mortal enemies had for one another, not something in the heart of a sister who didn’t want to let her better-looking sibling or friend borrow an article of clothing or in the mind of a brother who doesn’t want to see anyone around him do well.
Words can be a great comfort to us or a dagger through our hearts, depending on the context and spirit in which they’re used. Sometimes words can feel like little razor-sharp ice pellets penetrating our psyche. Other times, a good word at the right time can feel like an oversized cool raindrop on a long, hot summer day.
Some people take tremendous pride in having never been involved in a physical confrontation or resorted to violence to settle a dispute. Violence never solves anything, they will tell you in a heartbeat. What some of them don’t realize is that there are many forms of violence. Violence can be physical, spiritual and, yes, verbal. Some of those who pat themselves on the back for being nonviolent will not hesitate to use words to hurt the ones they love.
Some of us can recall something a grade-school teacher or classmate told us eons ago that still has the power to bring us pain when we think about it. It may have been some absent-minded comment made in passing or something more personal like a statement about our behavior or appearance. Whatever it was, if we haven’t found a way to move past it, such negative memories can continue to pour toxins into our lives.
What we can’t seem to remember are all the times we’ve used words to intentionally harm others or bring them down a peg or two. That’s in the past, water under the bridge, we reassure ourselves.
That says a great deal about us and the way we view ourselves in relation to the rest of the world. While self-love is important, that love should not come at the expense of others. There goes that biblical mandate again about loving others as we love ourselves.
Some of us try to camouflage our true intentions in making statements by using disclaimers like “I don’t mean to be ugly, but…,” as if that makes it okay to say whatever we damn well please. For the record, it doesn’t. It just ensures that we dig a deeper hole for ourselves, a hole made all the more unbearable by our own efforts to degrade and belittle others.
Many years ago, I had an office co-worker who never missed an opportunity to take a dig at someone or bring everybody in the office down. One day, when I had had enough, I blurted out, “You must be the most miserable person in the world, because all you seem to do is make other people miserable.” While I could see the anguish and surprise on the face of my co-worker, I made that observation more out of frustration than ill will. The good news is that my co-worker began to work very hard to become a more positive-minded person, one that everyone in the office wouldn’t avoid like the bubonic plague. Although the brother never changed enough to win a Nobel Peace Prize, he did shape up enough for us to stop making jokes about him going to hell on a full scholarship.
There are some people whose rampant use of hateful and offensive words is so out of control that friends, classmates, loved ones and co-workers avoid them at all costs. Some of these same people who fly off the handle and utter the first thing that comes to their minds can’t seem to handle it when the shoe is on the other foot. They are quick to whimper and moan about how their feelings have been hurt and they have been wronged whenever anyone crosses the line with them.
I think part of the problem lies in our social development. Some of us appear to be trapped in infantile stages of emotion and spirituality, with very little understanding of and appreciation for the needs and concerns of others. All too often, it’s all about us and what we want and need.
Many of us are unaware of how our tantrums, impulses and outbursts affect others. If we were, it is doubtful that we would be so adamant about undermining the relationships we have with friends, acquaintances and loved ones. We might even begin to see the connection between how we feel and what we say to others. We need to be very careful about what we say and how we say it. Words have awesome power. They can help us to get through the darkest of times and tear down lifelong relationships with the slip of a tongue. And a man’s (and woman’s) word is his (and her) bond, whether he wants it to be or not.
As children of the Creator, we will be held accountable for every word we utter, not just the things we do or don’t do.
This article originally published in the April 15, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.