Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Words Hurt, Words Heal

Title: Words Can Hurt; Words Can Heal

Written by: Conrade Yap
Date: 9 Feb 2010

This week, I am mindful of relationships. I was drawn to Proverbs.

Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” (Proverbs 12:18)

A story was told about a rabbi, teaching his class about the seriousness of words, especially spoken word. He says that words are likened to an arrow, rather than a sword. One puzzled student asks why. In reply, the rabbi says:

“A man may attempt to kill his friend by removing his sword from the sheath. If the friend pleads for mercy, the man may relent and puts the sword back in the safety of the sheath. However, if an arrow is shot, it cannot be returned. For once it is fired off, its aim is to hurt and perhaps kill.”
Words can hurt. Words can also heal.

A) Reckless Words Hurt
So too are words. Words that have been spoken out in haste cannot be taken back. Harsh words do stir up anger. They have the capacity to hurt people. They have the potential to harm relationships, even long-treasured ones. Sometimes, a long-held relationship is one careless word away from a rapid break-up. It can happen anywhere. Careless words can jeopardize a cordial working relationship with colleagues. They can endanger our friendships with classmates. They can imperil relations diligently built up over the years. Hurtful words can threaten marriages too. They can even turn people away from God. The author of James reminds us:
but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.” (James 3:8)
I remember a time when there was a Christian believer who have backslided from the faith. Some individuals try to persuade him to return to the Church. After much coaxing and encouraging, he agrees. He even signs up for the annual retreat. He becomes a winner and popular with many. Unfortunately, during the time together, some people become unhappy with some of his antics. Harsh words fire off. This brother walks off. From what I know, he has not returned. The result of hours of gentle persuasion and encouragement are neutralized in one minute. Hurtful words have increased bitterness. Perhaps this believer has been somewhat easily offended. Perhaps this person has indeed committed some weird acts that make others uncomfortable. However, relationship is a two-way, sometimes multiple way matter. All of us need to be constantly aware that words spoken out in haste, can often waste away the most precious thing of any community: Relationships.
A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” (Proverbs 15:2)

In any community, we need to learn to speak the truth in love. Easier said that done. Unfortunately, some people are overly enthusiastic about bearing the truth that they forget to wear the uniform of love. Tim Stafford calls harsh words as ‘toxic talk.’
Toxic talk doesn’t lead to dialogue – it stops it. Toxic talk is usually spoken in haste or in anger. The poison lingers on long after the emotions are gone. Your first task is to identify the toxic words in your speech and get rid of them.
(Tim Stafford, That’s Not What I Meant, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995, p41)
All of us need to learn what kinds of words can heal, and what kind of words can hurt. Sometimes, the more we relate to one another, the more we understand the scope of words to use and not use. Different people respond according to their experiences and makeup. It is only through constant interaction that we learn more about one another. Having said that, no matter what we do, we are imperfect. Regardless of the best intentions we have, sometimes, words spoken rightly can be perceived wrongly. This is a fact of life.

B) Genuine Conversation = Dialogue
We need to maintain a posture of dialogue. This means that anytime we say something, we need to let the other person express his or her view. Dialogue is two persons in genuine conversation, heart to heart. A monologue can happen when one speaks from a superior position over the other. Sometimes when I write my weekly devotionals on SabbathWalk, I get the feeling that this becomes a monologue. That is why I appreciate each and every feedback on what works, and what does not work. Just last week, I receive replies that indicate how helpful my marriage article has been. I thank those who have responded with gentle words of encouragement, even correction. I need that too. That is conversation.

Once, a genuine desire to help suddenly gets accused as a self-righteous act to boast. That hurts. That makes me sad. When people misinterpret something, the sender sometimes has to clarify by saying: “That’s not what I meant.” It is critical for people to maintain objectivity in communications. Both needs to try their best to speak the right words, use the right tone and appreciate the best moment. This is especially when disagreements occur. One of the best things to do is to arrange for a separate time for a one-to-one conversation. We live in a busy society. Sometimes, all we want to do is to shoot off a comment, fire off an email and move on to the next item on our list. Unfortunately, a careless word will waste more time. Lots of it. It can even disrupt our timetable, and even our emotional health.

C) Words that Heal: 3 Things
Let me suggest three things for us to develop words that heal: Praise, Thankfulness and Grace.

i) Praise: I remember how teachers of little children use the power of words through praise. Praise them when they are learning to keep their toys after play. Praise them when they help another child with their work. Praise is a positive reinforcement to inculcate in children the desire to do virtuous deeds. Even for adults, like it or not, there is a child in us that desires praise. As long as it is something truthful and helpful, praise one another in the Lord.

ii) Thankfulness: Another danger in any relationship is the tendency to take one another for granted. This is a slow poison. When this happens, we can feel like tools being used as means to achieve other people’s ends. This is sad. A simple way to do it is to express thankfulness in all we do.
give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thess 5:18)
Those of us who have been asking what is God’s will for us, this is one example. Give thanks! Give thanks even for the most mundane things done for us. This is a sign of grace.

iii) Grace: As I have said before, we are imperfect people living in an imperfect world. Despite our best efforts and intentions, we too can be misunderstood at times. This calls for grace. Words of grace such as:
  • “I’m sorry,”
  • “I forgive you,”
  • “You may have a point,” 
  • “Let me think about it,” 
  • “Thank you for your feedback, can I get back to you on this?”
  • ...
Learn to demonstrate grace to others, as well as to ourselves. We all live under the grace of God.

D) Reveal Inner Riches
One more thing. In relationships, we need to have a purpose. If you are a Christian believer, you are called to love one another in Jesus Christ. You are called to play your part to build up the body of Christ, not tear down. Thus we are all called to use words to build up instead of breaking down. The aim of it all, as far as relationships is concerned, is to help one another be the best that we can be. The 19th Century British Prime Minister says it so well:
The greatest good you can do for another is not just to share your riches but to reveal to him his own.” (Benjamin Disraeli)
What a powerful reminder for us! Let us grow our relationships with a purpose. This purpose is not in accumulating external riches for ourselves or for others. Many of us are already blessed with much. The challenge for us in relationships is to help the other person, regardless of who they are, to discover the riches they already have. This is a profound demonstration of loving our neighbour. How about taking 1 day a week to praise, thank or show grace to someone you have not spoken to for a while?

Thought: When we respect another person, we are in essence respecting the One who created him/her.


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  1. And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did in his time of need, when he and his men were very hungry? He went into the house of God when Abiathar was High Priest and ate the bread of offering, which only the priests are allowed to eat, and he also gave some to the men who were with him.” Then Jesus said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is master even of the Sabbath.”

  2. Word is very strong. With word you can do anything. But be very careful on using word. It can definitely hurt people. But word can also be use to spread the will of god.