An ancient story, often retold but never without relevance, has one of the Egyptian Pharaohs making a strange request of his priests. As the sacrificial ox was being slain at the altar, the Pharaoh demands that the holy men bring to him the holiest portion of the animal, and that part of the animal most evil. In the end, the priests brought Pharaoh only the tongue.
This reflects the parallel wisdom of an equally olden Jewish proverb: “Death and life are in the power of one’s words; they hold both poison and fruit.” The ancients knew this – the power of words – but we seem to have forgotten it.
For all the trouble afflicting this world today, one of the more insidious but overlooked concerns is the failure of basic civility.
Caustic cable news sound bites, scathing Facebook comments, political mudslinging, rants and tirades against enemies and neighbors: There is a devilish eagerness to rip others apart with our dehumanizing, violent words. This loss of healthy, respectful communication is as big a factor in the loss of a society’s soul as institutional and economic collapse.
What can we do about it? Not much if we continue spewing poison and death with our mouths. But venomous words are not the only option. Our words also hold the power of life and healing. What if we put the same energy, enthusiasm and creativity into plotting others’ betterment as we did their demise?
What if we learned to lay traps of kindness, not retaliation? What if we learned to use our words and actions, not to critique and tear down others, but to uplift and motivate them?
You actually can – and this is only a reminder – you actually can have a profound, life-changing influence on the people around you. You are able, with your words, to set the trajectory for a person’s entire life. Words, used properly, can do irreversible good for the people around us.