I believe in the power of words.
Words can build up. Words can tear down.
Words can encourage. Words can wound.
Words can bless. Words can curse.
Very few words are powerless and without consequence.
I believe, deeply, in the power of words.
“Those who guard their lips preserve their lives, but those who speak rashly will come to ruin.” Proverbs 13:3
“With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.” James 3:9-10
Years ago, I was influenced by a book by the Christian psychologist and author, M. Scott Peck, A World Waiting to be Born: Civility Rediscovered.
Civility. Ive been thinking a lot about civility lately. When I think of civility I think of respect and common decency – an absence of ugliness. Civility is more than superficial politeness. Civility is respect. I especially think of how we communicate with and about one another.
Peck writes, “Genuine civility is a form of healing behavior that demands often painful honesty and the scalpel of candor.”
Civil behavior is painfully honest and full of unvarnished truth. And, the purpose of civil behavior and speech is healing.
Words spoken civilly are truthful and heartfelt. Civil words can be painful to hear and still be civil. But, civil words are never intended to inflict pain for the sake of inflicting pain. Civil words are intended to build up, not tear down.
It is quite possible to 100% disagree with what someone believes, does or says, and still treat them, and speak to them or about them, civilly.
I believe, passionately, in the need for civil words.
I attended Duke Divinity School in the early 1990’s, and was officially introduced to “political correctness” for the first time, just as the term was coming into vogue, at least in academic circles. Thankfully, already believing in the power of words and civility, “political correctness” simply gave shape, form, and intentionality to my communication. My understanding of “political correctness,” and attempts to practice it, has simply been to be as respectful in my speech and action as I can be. If a word or phrase is offensive, then I avoid it. If another word or phrase is more accurate or edifying, I strive to adapt it.
I cannot remember a single occasion that I have been offended by someone’s correction or request to use different language. Nor can I think of a single time that I’ve felt overburdened by being intentional about my words.
As a follower of Jesus, I believe that the burden is mine to avoid being hurtful, harmful, or offensive. Not only that. The burden is also mine to speak “the truth in love.” I can adjust what I say and how I say it for the sake of others. To be Christ-like is to be civil.
All of a sudden, in the last couple of years, “political correctness,” in some circles, has become a bad word, while crass, careless, disrespectful speech is being celebrated. We’ve abandoned civility, and I think we are worse for it.
I’m so sick of the venom, of the small-ness, the falsity, the vitriol.
So, call it whatever you want – political correctness, civility, respect, common-decency. I call it civility. I call it Christ-like. I call it right. And, I think we need a lot more of it.