Words have a particular kind of potency. Words are powerful, they can build someone up, or they can tear them down. We have used words to get our way, and we can become masters of subtle techniques like sarcasm, shame, or even silence to win a fight or cut someone out. Harsh words are easy to come up with, and hard to take back while saying, “I love you” or “I’m sorry” may be the hardest thing we can do.
I have a foggy memory for a many events in my life. But those moments where cruel or kind words were used have stuck with me in vibrant, colourful detail. The strength or pain that words cause can entirely change how a person sees themselves and this affects the decisions that they make.
When I was young my father told me he would be my “back-catcher.” He said that I can go out into the world and swing at whatever comes my way. Whatever I miss, he’ll be there to catch. Those words were some of the most powerful words of encouragement I have ever received. They gave me the courage to pursue my dreams, fail, and go at it again. These words had weight because my loving father was behind them. They changed the way I saw myself, and others.
Changing the way we speak is not something we can easily do, our words are rooted in who we think we are. If we live in a defensive mode, afraid of being run over by others, angry about injustices committed against us, then our words will reflect that. If a neighbour kid runs across our lawn or a co-worker takes credit for a success, a self-protective person will respond with cutting words. Yet if we see ourselves as beloved people, who have been given grace, and who see the neighbour kids and our co-workers as beloved as well, then our words change. Our identity and security play a major role in shaping the words we use.
The Bible has in it a collection of Proverbs, one of them, Proverbs 16:24 says, “Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body.” Maybe it’s because I’m a beekeeper that I like this proverb, or maybe it’s because I’ve discovered it to be true. When we see others, including our neighbours, as people deeply loved by God, and when we see ourselves as being the recipients of God’s love and grace, we begin to speak differently, graciously. Contrived kindness is shallow and short lived, but gracious words born out of a growing understanding of our own identity as children of God, called to love and bless others; that brings life.
As neighbours in Chestermere we choose how we see one another. Are the people on your street mere functionaries, tax-payers, or residents? If we see them like this, then they are sure to put us off at some point, and cruel words said in person or online will become the norm for our city and cause ongoing harm. But if we choose to see our neighbours as valuable, beloved, welcomed people worthy of our time, energy, and care, then we will speak words that build up, encourage, and forever strengthen the fabric of our city.
Into the Neighbourhood Experiment: Consider your words, where do they come from? How will you choose to use your words this week?