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The Power of Words

Words may indeed seem innocent, harmless, and powerless in black and white on paper, or on an electronic screen. However, to the skilled user, they come alive with potency in spoken and written words.

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On Saturday, January 13, 2007, at my one-bedroom rental home in the city of Antioch, California, the light filtered into my room via the slices of the Venetian blinds, as I woke up that very morning to the smile of the rising sun. I laid there thankful for seeing a new day, pondering, as I rhetorically spoke to myself, “Shall it be another beautiful day in the paradise of my existence?”  It was always a refreshing feeling to be greeted by the chirping birds, singing sweet songs with melodies that were pure and true. After the necessary morning rituals of that day, I remember sitting back to muse and dialogue with my subconscious on the Power of Words. What spurred these thoughts on that day? I remember taking up my dictionary and flipping through its pages, and all I saw was words, words, and more words—that was the catalyst to the thoughts. It is absolutely fascinating to sit back and reminisce about my views concerning the Power of Words.

“Words have energy and power with the ability to help, to heal, to hinder, to hurt, to harm, to humiliate, and to humble.” — Yehuda Berg

Going through the dictionary that day takes my mind to what a Nathaniel Hawthorne once said that “Words—so innocent and powerless as they are, as standing in a dictionary, how potent for good and evil they become, in the hands of one who knows how to combine them!” Words may indeed seem innocent, harmless, and powerless in black and white on paper, or on an electronic screen. However, to the skilled user, they come alive with potency in spoken and written words. The master wordsmith can bring to life words with cogent powers, making them kinetically constructive to build up or destructive to tear down. The right use of words can cause the common become uncommon. It can make the ordinary shift into the realm of the extraordinary. The accurate use of words can make a dull destiny to become utterly radiant. However, on the flip side, the wrong use of words can tank your destiny. It can crush foundations of purposes and bring grand edifices that took years to build to ruin. It can cause your whole life to be razed down to ashes. There is power in the spoken and written word. As a Pearl Strachan Hurd once said, “Handle them carefully, for words have more power than atom bombs.”  Words are bullets that can kill in the mouth of the unwise.

Words are Bullets that can kill, use them wisely.

As I sit back pondering on these notions concerning the power of words, I begin to question myself and my subconscious. Could I say that my word usage so far in life is adequate or inadequate?  Have I said too much in life or have I said too little? A Thomas Fuller was right on the money for his statement, “A deluge of words and a drop of sense.” No wonder the wise King Solomon had a lot to say about the use of words in the book of Proverbs in the Bible. You put yourself at jeopardy when you talk too much. In the outpouring of too many words, you are bound to say something that you shouldn’t, which could land you in a Herculean load of problems. So, sometimes, it makes sense to just shut up instead of putting your foot in your mouth. [1] It is better for you to utter just a few words and make sense than to open your mouth and you infect your ambiance with your lack of awareness, mediocrity, and utter stupidity. So, shutting up at times, when you have nothing meaningful to say is an art and an act of wisdom to say the very least. [2] There is much wisdom in the words of Pythagoras that “Either be silent or speak words that are better than silence.”

I really think that Mies van der Rohe’s architectural minimalist statement, “Less is more,” also spills over to the usage of words. Could I agree more with an Arthur Schopenhauer who said that “To use many words to communicate few thoughts is everywhere the unmistakable sign of mediocrity. To gather much thought into few words stamps the man of genius.” There is much value in the economy of words. We make more impact when we say few words with meaning than when we spew out a deluge of words that absolutely make no sense. In other words, we need to make concerted effort to ensure that the words that we speak add value to the lives of those who hear or read what we say. To speak or write words of value, you must internalize words of wisdom, knowledge, and common sense. You can only give what you have. What you internalize is what you externalize. You must think before you speak. It is foolish to just spew out words without first thinking it through. You must be careful of the words you speak and the words that you write. [3] A Proverb once said that “A spoken word cannot be recalled.” So, think about it before you speak about it.

Reason and think before you speak.

You contradict your Christian walk when you say harsh words. You are only deceiving yourself, and your religiosity isn’t worth a penny. [4] Learn to speak right, appropriate, kind, gentle, soothing, and healing words that are beneficial. [5] You will do yourself an immense favor by not being careless with your words. People say thoughtless things that they end up regretting and will have to account for down the road, ceteris paribus. [6] For instance, some couples say very negative words to themselves when they’re arguing that end up destroying the foundation of their relationships that may have taken so many years to build. A Thomas Fuller once said that “To talk without thinking is to shoot without aiming.” Now, that is a dangerous man or woman—one who blurts out words without processing the effect of their words. In the words of some of my funny friends, these fellows have a case of an oral-diarrhea—they would need some tablespoons of buccal Pepto-Bismol to bring their stench of their running mouth to order. So, if you’re someone who has a quick temper, you may want to learn how to cool yourself down before you say things that you end up regretting. [7] As a Christian, you cannot curse someone out in a moment and then turn around and praise the person with your words from the same mouth—you contradict yourself and stain the garment of your Christian walk. [8] So, hush it and flush it—flush out bad words out of your system.

“Be careful what you say. You can say something hurtful in ten seconds, but ten years later, the wounds are still there.” — Joel Osteen

Isn’t it amazing just thinking about the power of words? That is the main reason we need to watch our tongues and what we say with our mouths. We use a harness to control a horse’s movement when riding it. As small as the harness is, it controls the action of the horse—and the horse obeys. The same goes for a huge ship—a tiny rudder—compared to the size of the ship—controls the direction of the vessel. As the Captain or designated seaman turns the Ship’s Wheel, the course of the craft changes with every turn via the motion of the rudder. In a similar vein, the tongue is comparable to the harness and the rudder—it may be small—but it can do a lot of damage via the kinds of words it is able to unleash. [9] People can say words—knowingly or unknowingly—to people that could cause some irreparable damage to the lives of the recipients. Death and life are in the power of the tongue. [10] We can speak life-giving words to people. Words that can build people up; words that can change destinies and encourage people towards carrying out noble and positive actions. People also possess the ability to speak death-giving words. Words can kill—literally. So, be cautious about what we say—spoken or written. Guard our words with all diligence.

Remember that silence is sometimes the best answer—be wise how you speak.

Rudyard Kipling once said that “Words are…the most powerful drug used by mankind,” and I cannot agree less. When adequately used, they heal; and when abused, they could kill in an instant. We must consciously choose our words with care because according to a Greek saying, “A word out of season may mar a whole life.” When we speak or write rashly, it is like the thrusting of the sword which is obviously a painful experience. The potency of words cannot be underestimated, and its effects—positive or negative—should not just be considered from a Christian perspective. For instance, the power of words and its effects can be seen at work in the business world and beyond. Leaders, who are careless with their words can destroy the morale of their followers. We hear of instances where good employees end up leaving organizations because of what a leader or manager said negatively—directly to an individual or to the team. Leaders and managers who are careless with their words can erode the psychological safety of their followers. Hence, organizations need to invest in themselves by teaching their leadership and management how to use words in building up morale, rather than pulling it down. As we see, the power of words cuts across all industries. 

“A man has no more right to say an uncivil word to another man than he has to knock him down.” — Samuel Johnson

In summary, we have seen that words are powerful—they can build, and they can destroy; they can give life, and they can also kill. We must be cautious with our words. It is better that we speak less than utter so many words and eventually say the wrong things that we end up regretting. Relationships have been broken. Destinies have become sullied or even terminated prematurely due to the power of words being used negatively. Sometimes, being silent is wisdom.  Hence, economize your words.  Learn to listen more than we speak. A La Rochefoucauld once said that “The surest rule [for excelling in conversation] is to listen much, speak little, and say nothing that you will be sorry for.” Think before you speak. Remember always that what you take in is what you will eventually give out. So, if you internalize wisdom, be sure that you will begin to speak wise words. Speaks words that heal. Remember that the tongue may be a small member of the body, but capable of unleashing hell via the words that it says. Also, the power of words cuts across all industries—not just in Christendom. So, watch your tongue—watch what you say. If you will remember nothing from this column, at least remember the words of Christ that said, “And I tell you this, that you must give account on Judgment Day for every idle word you speak.” [6] It is something worth pondering on.   

A Robert Fulghum once said that “Sticks and stones may break our bones, but words will break our hearts.” We must think about the end-product of what we say before it. Don’t go around breaking people’s hearts.  Our words can either make or mar our destinies. King Solomon of Israel in all his wisdom once said that “Everyone enjoys giving good advice, and how wonderful it is to be able to say the right thing at the right time!” [11] Hence, it would be a worthy investment of your time if you take a moment and ask God to give you the words of wisdom so that you will know how to answer everyone. Ask God to teach you how to speak right, appropriate, kind, gentle, soothing, and healing words that are beneficial. May God open your understanding to His will through His words, as this will fill you up with His wisdom. You externalize what you internalize. Externalizing His internalized word is a wholesome experience on us and others. [12] May we become people who understand the potency of words. May we become people who say positive words that build up, rather than negative words that destroy. May we choose the right things to say; and when we speak, may it be a life that thrives.

References [1]. Proverbs 10:19. [2]. Proverbs 17:27-28; Proverbs 21:23. [3]. Proverbs 15:28; Proverbs 12:18; Proverbs 13:3. [4]. James 1:26. [5]. Proverbs 25:11; Proverbs 31:26; Proverbs 16:24; Proverbs 15:4; Proverbs 12:18. [6]. Matthew 12:36. [7]. Proverbs 29:20. [8]. James 3:10. [9]. James 3:3-6. [10]. Proverbs 18:21. [11]. Proverbs 15:23. [12]. Isaiah 50:4. [The Living Bible (TLB)].

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Ogbonnaya Agom-Eze is an entrepreneur and the Founder, CEO, Editor-In-Chief of Oaekpost, LLC, a U.S.-based online media company and the parent organization of www.oaekpost.com. He is a multi-niche writer with a wide range of interests in various genres. Agom-Eze is based in the Greater Seattle Area, Washington, and can be reached at ogb@oaekpost.com.

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