The Power of Speech

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord  

(Psalm 19:14)

This week is ‘Week without Words’ and, being mindful of those who are not able to communicate as easily as we do, makes us aware that speech is a gift.  How do we use this gift?  

There is an old rhyme:  Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words can’t hurt me.  But, as we know, that’s not true!  Words have great power: they can build up and they can destroy, they can inspire hope and motivate people to greatness and they can send chills down our spine; they can make us happy or sad, courageous or fearful, loved and included or alone and alienated. 

Some years ago the topic of discussion on the SBS program Insight was ‘trolling’.  It was disturbing to hear the three trolls who appeared as guests on the program, representative of this phenomenon, expressing their defence of this particular way of exercising their right to freedom of speech.  We are all familiar with that old analogy of breaking open a feather pillow and then trying to retrieve the scattered feathers.  Impossible.  But the extent of the damage today is frightening and sometimes tragic.  One member of the audience told of how trolls had got into the RIP site set up by the friends of his fifteen-year-old daughter who had passed away, and within a few days, while coping with grief and funeral arrangements the family had to deal with that too.  Words can and do hurt and destroy. 

At the moment, freedom of speech is a topical issue here in Australia as it is more widely across the globe in today’s political climate.  Freedom of speech as a right, while being an important part of any healthy society, does raise serious issues about the rights of all people and particularly the possible harmful effects on others when that right is exercised.  This is a complex issue and is an essential debate to have in any society and it prompted me to think about what we find in our Judaeo – Christian spiritual tradition – about speech and how we use it, and in fact our Christian understanding of ‘the word’.   

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Ms Kerry McCullough

Spirituality and Liturgy Coordinator