Words are the way we communicate. With our words we build others up or tear them down. With our words we share what is on our hearts and make commitments. A popular saying says, “A man’s word is his bond.” In a day when we are increasingly prone to take each other to court, contractual relationships often call for performance bonds. Before we became a such litigious society, a man’s word was his bond. He personally assumed responsibility for carrying out his commitments. Men of character and integrity were known for their truth telling, for their reputation for delivering on their commitments, and for their careful use of words. Men and women of character and integrity are increasingly in the minority. When found they are like rare jewels and their words catch the listener’s ear.
Another saying we learned as children was “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” We would utter this saying when others spoke ill of us. Yet nothing could be further from the truth. The real truth of the matter is that while the damage may be invisible for a period, harsh words, lies, gossip about us leave scars in our hearts. A biblical proverb says, “Telling lies about others is as harmful as hitting them with an ax, wounding them with a sword, or shooting them with a sharp arrow.”
While it is comfortable to talk about such things in the context of childhood and childish behavior, how many people do you know who have had careers damaged by inappropriate words? How many business settings and, yes, indeed families, are dysfunctional because of harsh words, denigrating innuendo, unrelenting criticism, or disingenuous compliments? In many cases, it seems that we adults have simply refined the art of using words to promote our own selfish objectives, either to ingratiate ourselves to the listener or to discredit another and put ourselves in a better light. How often have we heard the words, “Well, [so and so] is doing the same thing!”
We become so infatuated with achieving the goals we set for ourselves that we become blinded to the paths we use to accomplish those objectives. We begin to say things and behave in ways that start us down a slippery slope of being crafty with our words which slides into half-truths and ultimately placing ourselves into positions where we have to cover up previous statements with more lies. Then we become the scoundrel and villain who goes about with a tongue that can’t be trusted, who winks with his eyes, sends different signals with his feet and motions another message with his fingers. This proverb (6:11) may be where crossing one’s fingers behind his back got started. Crossing your fingers behind your back while making a statement to someone, presumably cancels out your need to tell the truth or to deliver on the commitment.
How much better to be a person who with all sincerity builds up others. A word aptly spoken is like jewelry of gold set in silver. How can you go about encouraging the next person? How can you spur another on to outbursts of great work, acts of love, and genuine respect for others? Those of us reading these words have developed habits in the way we use our native language. Do our habits need to change? Do we need to learn new ways to use our words? Are you a person whose words are trusted or do you need help in the art of choosing your words? Today is the first day of the rest of your life. Probably each one of us can make some positive shift in the way we respond to others with our words.