Oct 11, 2013

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MEDITATION: On the power of language

MEDITATION: On the power of language

Not long ago someone became quite abusive towards me. The reason: I did not respond quickly enough to his e-mail enquiry.

Afterwards I realised that knowing this person, I should have been more careful and attentive, answered more promptly or at least indicated that I had received his letter.

But I was going through a busy time myself and deliberately took a break from my e-mails. So even when I eventually responded and explained I still had to cope with his almost hateful reproach – also some bitter mockery and outright cynicism.

Such uninhibited and direct mockery and slur can be quite disturbing and hurtful, even when you know that such an outpour of negative emotions is irrational and undeserved. 

The whole episode however made me aware once again of the tremendous power and influence of language. Of how offensive words or abrasive insults can not only spoil your day, but also hurt and damage your self image, even undermine your confidence.

Many people are able (and lucky) to keep their cool during such an unwelcome tirade. They can even immediately put any hurtful remark or incident behind them, recognizing that the problem lies elsewhere.

There are however many others who constantly have to struggle to forget and overcome such brutish behaviour – people who still suffer the same mockery and insults every day, hearing how useless and bad they are. People who become permanently wounded and scarred by such language – who over time lose their sense of dignity and honour. Even become angry, hard, bitter and unforgiving, exactly like their antagonists.

In our country there are thousands of people, especially also young people, who know this experience – people who are constantly exposed to and humiliated by such negative and destructive language – at home, at school, in the workplace and also in the public sphere. 

We who take pride in calling ourselves Christians should counter this unhealthy trend or pattern by setting a different example. In fact, we are called to always be patient with people, to respect their dignity, to always address them with kind and friendly words, no matter who they are or what they have done. Because in the words of the Bible: ”A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1)

Carel Anthonissen

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