Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Word Power

Okay, so I've been kicking around some ideas that combine a few different areas of thought for me. I think that they are complicated enough that I think I'm going to split them up into several posts to aid in comprehension (hopefully).

To start:
I love words. I'm not a word fanatic. I'm no sesquipedalian bore. Don't look to me to wax loquaciously about a subject by any means. I eschew obfuscation whenever possible. Okay, I'm just being silly. Really, though, I believe words are powerful. I believe they are formative. I believe that in some ways, we speak things into existence. Not literal, concrete things per se, but our words shape our reality.

For instance, there is a thought that our self-identities are formed at a young age. What we hear about ourselves usually shapes what we think about ourselves. You tell a kid they are a stupid, good-for-nothing and parents wonder why their kid grows up, lagging behind in school and generally getting in trouble. On the flip side, parents who tell their kids they are smart and capable generally have kids who do well and have self-confidence.

I dislike labels, except on soup cans. I see clients with labels all the time: Alcoholic, cheat, liar, depressed, etc. Labels are helpful for identification, true, but when one's identity becomes wrapped up in the label, problems follow. Words are powerful to shape our reality.

I tell clients, "Don't tell your kid that he's a bad boy. He's just a boy. He may make bad decisions or have bad behavior, but he can change those things. It is harder to change who you are." Or with another therapy couple, "Don't call him a liar. When you resort to name-calling, it is a way of making that behavior out to be something that a person is rather than something a person does. When you are angry, labeling him as a liar makes that all he is, so nothing he says after that point has any power because if he is a liar, everything he'll respond with will be doubted." Words are powerful.

Words can be positive and formative, too. Take a look at this remarkable video: (Click here to be redirected to YouTube). It is a neat, feel good film about the power of words to change perceptions.

So the second area that I've been thinking about that blends in with the first thought concerns where the power behind Words comes from. Here are my thoughts:

Start at the beginning. How do things start out? God calls everything into existence by speaking. God created the heavens and the earth... then he speaks, "Let there be light" and there was light. God speaks again and voila: Sky to separate the waters above from the waters below. God not only creates, but he names. Out of all of this creation that he sees and deems good, only one part of it is made in his likeness. What if part of being made in his likeness is tied up in our sharing the ability to, in some limited fashion, harness the power of words?

Fast forward to after the flood (Genesis chapter 11, if you care to read it). The world is once again teeming with people and they have to spread out to find space. Scripture notes that everyone had a common language and speech. Given that everyone is able to communicate effectively, they decide to do something spectacular: reach for metaphorical immortality by creating a city that reaches to the heavens. God notes their efforts and comments:
6 The LORD said, "If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them.

Wow. That is pretty amazing. So, the same All-powerful Being who, mere chapters ago, spoke the universe into existence seems to indicate that with the remarkable skill of being able to communicate, nothing they purpose to do will be impossible for them.

Pros: God seems to indicate that we could do powerful things if we use our words to build up.
Cons: With enough cooperation, we could also end up destroying ourselves.

Other thoughts on the power of words from scripture to follow...


Martha said...


marlis said...

So God said that they were speaking one language and they could do anything. Literally that would be one language, but figuratively that would be with "one purpose".....

I love words. But as you say, with words one must be careful, for they can be good as well as damaging.

Oh and a side note, even if you say all the right things to your children, your actions sometimes speak louder than words. And even if we as parents do everything right, kids can still do bad things. That is when you have to love them more..

can't wait for the next part! You rock Jeff.