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The Power of Words

June 15, 2010

Words are mighty things.

They have the power to make or break individuals and empires.

They can express the most complex of thoughts, or the most simple of sentiments.

Four letters, arranged just-so and expressed in the right (or wrong) way can send otherwise sensible people into violent fits of rage.

And yet, on their own, words have no real value. They are, anthropologists tell us, a collection of symbols that, in their own right, become symbols. It is only when they are imbued with emotion by our personal experiences and collective consciousness that words gain their power.

A sociologist of religion, Peter Berger, once posited that gods are man-made creations to which we give tremendous power and influence over our lives. However, Berger says, once we create these gods it’s as if we forget that we created them and subject ourselves back to their rules as if they never came from us in the first place.

While I, obviously, don’t agree with Berger’s characterization of “religion” and the relationship between God and humanity, take out the word “gods” in Berger’s theory and replace it with “words” and suddenly you’ve got something.

Why, you might ask, all of this philosophizing about the power of words?

Because sometimes we all need a reminder that the things we say speak louder than the things we do and at times, despite our actions, our words can mean the end of relationships as we know them.

Someone once told me: never disparage your wife. Don’t talk bad about her to her face. Don’t talk bad about her to other people. And, don’t make fun of her.

That doesn’t mean you can’t disagree with or express frustration with your spouse. In a relationship of true intimacy, these things happen. But, there’s a line between expressing yourself and attacking/disparaging. One is focused on actions, the other on character.

I have, admittedly, forgotten this rule from time to time and teased my wife. Michelle has a great sense of humor but, even when no ill-will is intended, I can tell that these jabs carry wounds.

I often hear other people drop a flippant criticism of their spouse. Men, especially, have a tendency to get together and air frustrations about their “old ball and chain.” While this will likely occur until the end of time, perhaps the limited readership of this blog can be a movement of people who stands up and says, “We’re better than that.”

We’d all do well, after all, to recognize just how powerful we are and how much our words can affect others.

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