The weight of words

The untold power of speech

This photo was taken at the UofC Spoken Word Club's November Open Mic/Poetry Slam. (Photo by Deborah Mebude/SAIT Polytechnic)

This photo was taken at the UofC Spoken Word Club’s November Open Mic/Poetry Slam. (Photo by Deborah Mebude/SAIT Polytechnic)

An age-old maxim states that “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” yet it doesn’t take long to find real-life examples that counter this sentiment.

Far from the playground antics of childhood, it’s easy to see that words do play a significant role in the world we live in today.

On a political level, many candidates rise or fall from a slipped word.

On the other hand, the right speech delivered at the right time can shift perspectives and inspire people to pursue change.  

From a faith standpoint, words have long been known to carry weight. 

“From a Christian perspective, words are hugely powerful,” said Art Kung, a chaplain at SAIT’s Interfaith Centre.

“The creation story is that God spoke the world into existence.”

Therefore, to Kung, the implications of language are vast and impactful.

“If you break down the word ‘encouragement,’ it means to bring life, to spread courage to someone else,” said Kung. 

“Speaking words of encouragement are beneficial for others and ourselves.”

He believes it is important that people use words to inspire and help others, rather than spread negativity and hatred. 

“I always think of the movie ‘The Grinch’,” said Kung.

“When little Cindy Lou [Who] spoke encouragement, that day his heart grew two sizes bigger.”

Imam Fayaz Tilly, a Sunni Muslim who also works at the Interfaith Centre, agrees with this sentiment. 

“Words are very important,” said Tilly.  

“They have the ability to bring anger as well as to bring peace.” 

To him, words play an essential role in every part of life, from legislation, to economics and everything in between.

“We live in a world where words matter,” he said.

“[Words] definitely have yield. They definitely have an impact.”

Although the two are from distinct religious backgrounds, both Kung and Tilly recognize that speech is a powerful tool. 

“We need to have discernment about how we speak,” said Kung. 

“I always tell my son to ask [himself] the question, ‘Is it helpful or is it hurtful’.”

An old Biblical proverb states that, “The tongue has the power of life and death,” meaning that words have the ability to bring both nourishment and decay to the world around us.

With this in mind, both men recognize that it’s up to individuals to yield this power wisely. 

“The Bible says that ‘Out of the heart the mouth speaks’,” said Kung. 

“Speak love. Speak grace. Be gentle and be kind.” 

Laurence J. Peter, a late Canadian teacher and author, once said, “Speak when you are angry, and you’ll make the best speech you’ll ever regret.”

In the midst of political and economic climates that can so often bring out the worst in people, it is worthwhile to take note of speech habits, both online and in everyday life.

It’s impossible to control what other people say around you, but it’s worth recognizing the power that each of us has to spread hope, rather than hostility. 

“There’s so much negativity in our world,” said Tilly.

“Positivity only leads to more positivity.”

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