word /wərd/: a single unit of language which means something and can be spoken or written.
Reading that definition from the Oxford dictionary takes me back a couple of years to my Biology class in high school. I can very clearly recall being seated on the wonderfully uncomfortable metallic chairs, a Form One student, shiny and new – eager for knowledge.
I can remember the drone of the teachers voice in the warm afternoon as she dictated notes on the definition of cells. And at that point in time, I was innocent enough to write all my notes and actually listen to the teacher. And that is why I can remember her, Ms Linet(though we called her something else), tell us that “…a cell is the building block of life…” And right now as I write this, I cannot help but notice the striking resemblance between a word and a cell. I cannot help but realize that a word is essentially the fundamental unit of language – of human communication and interaction, and I become sad when it hits me that we don’t treat words as they deserve anymore.
DEATH BY SIGHT
I am often late to the party, and true to character, I only joined Instagram a few weeks ago. I was always put off by the idea of communicating through images, but I’m glad to say my short time on the media platform has made me feel more photogenic. And the counter showing my dozens, literally dozens of followers perhaps tells me my selfies are…how do the youngsters say, on fleek.
But I digress.
Instagram has taught me something – that young people today don’t like to talk much. In fact, if they had a choice they would only speak in memes and vines. But if I were asked, I’d say whoever said “A picture is worth a thousand words” has to show us the formula he used to define this mathematical relationship. Because in my view – words are infinitely beautiful, and of unquantifiable worth.
THE POWER OF WORDS
So that we’re on the same page this whole post, we will need to know what kind of words we are talking about.
Perhaps inferior only to sex and eating, I believe the use of words may be the only other human activity that makes use of most of our physical senses. We sometimes make the mistake of thinking that words only exist in written form. We forget that communication is often reliant on the contribution of one’s entire body.
If you have never had a Deaf acquaintance, I would strongly recommend you seek one out. It is at first a very daunting experience, but one that opens your eyes – no pun intended. What hits you when you ‘speak’ with a Deaf person, is how expressive they are. If they were to speak with their hands as they oft do, you could literally be mesmerized by the fluidity of their motions. Their faces are never static, they express every single thought or emotion they have in them. It is my feeling that our vocal speech may never attain the fullness and truthfulness of Deaf communication. It’s why most of us can’t help but gesture when we speak. So you see, in a sense, words are visual.
Then there is touch. I would argue that for Helen Keller, world renowned for her achievements in spite of blindness and deafness, a touch of your face was more than a novelist’s page of descriptions could do. I may even daresay that your scent were you to meet could be more revealing than what you could say of yourself.
So, seeing that words may perhaps be under-estimated and vastly underrated, let’s take a walk amongst them if we shall.
THE FIRST WORD
Every one and their grandmother knows to some degree the Biblical creation story. For this moment however, we’ll look at the first part of the narrative. The event that set all things into motion. The first speech ever recorded, if not the first to be said, “Let there be light”, and right on cue, as the book of Genesis 4:3 puts it, “…and there was light.”
What is this? Who is this who just…speaks things into existence? How powerful is He? How powerful are His words?
Really powerful. Because throughout His interactions with man as recorded in ‘His Word’, He never fails to point out the eternal nature of what He has spoken in the past.
Isaiah 40:8 The grass withers, the flower fades: but the word of our God shall stand for ever.
But the moment that blows your mind comes when you skip along the Biblical timeline to the opening remarks of the account of Jesus’ life as told by his friend and follower, John the son of Zebedee
John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (Emphasis added)
God is His word. If He is eternal, so must His words be. John proceeds to tell us that all things were made by Him; and without Him was not any thing made that was made. In other words, God’s Word made everything, He spoke everything into being.
MY WORDS AND I
A challenge I face in updating this blog regularly, is figuring out what words to use. Because unlike speech, these words remain. The pages remember.
But perhaps my greater fear is that these words will define me. Be they funny, thought-provoking, boring, sad…whatever, these words are my babies. And you don’t disown your babies.
But this is nothing new.
For millennia, men have been immortalized by the words they spoke or wrote. And the beauty…or ugliness, of today is that every single day of our lives, the words we create go on record. They are either the phone calls we make or receive, the text messages and emails we send, or the captions, tweets, and statuses we share.
Are those what will remain of you for your generations to see?
I recently went on a purge of my social media history, and it was one of the most cringe-inducing episodes of my life.
I saw the posts from my angsty teenage high school self. Remember hao we uzd ta talk lyk dis, n mek abbrivieshunz dat med no sense? N lyk hao we wd RaNDumlee cHáñG3 sp3lLinGz & Add ÑûmB3rzz whar eet med n0 s3ns3¿?
(That was physically painful to write)
That was what I found as a record of myself. After momentary self ridicule, I decided that that was not an accurate representation of who I am, and into the digital trash cans of the Internet is where I sent the incriminating evidence.
THE PAINFUL SIDE OF WORDS
I am rubber, you are glue.
Everything you say bounces off me and sticks to you…
Sticks and stones may break my bones
But words can never hurt me
It is okay to teach children not to be too mindful of the mean things said to them by bad mannered kids. It even helps them later in life not to be too keen on naysayers.
But temperance is important, we shouldn’t end up watering down the power of words.
We can indeed hurt others with ‘just’ words. Don’t blessings and curses all proceed from the same mouth? Aren’t they usually the same lips that offered kisses and sweet endearments they that turn and insult and talk behind the back of your ex partner?
When God gave the Ten Commandments did he not expressly command, “Do not lie.“?
If we are to be like God, and our words to be like us, then how can we possibly use our words to lie, to deceive, to misdirect, to gossip, to plot evil, to insult, to mock, to speak profanely, to demean?
Words are powerful, and like the proverbial double-edged sword, cut both ways.
THE BEAUTY OF SILENCE
Someone far wiser than me said these words:
It is better to be silent and be thought a fool, than to speak and remove all doubt.
There is a level of transcendence that can only be found in the absence of words. Quite counterintuitive when you consider the gist of this entire post. But a truth you can take to the bank.
A beautiful podcast on this subject was done a while back by Radiolab, though broader in perspective. You can listen to it when you get the chance.
THE END OF THE MATTER
What then should you do with your words?
I have a suggestion – measure them.
Use your words sparingly. Be deliberate in the words you choose to use. Don’t speak in anger. Use your words to build others. And as you do all that, remember these other words:
Matthew 12:36 But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment.
Are your words idle…are they empty? You are better off keeping them to yourself.
It seems like a simple lesson, but one that many political “leaders” never learnt. They spew foolishness upon foolishness, and laugh it off like a big joke. They may need to read these words.
But you, who has consumed all these words I have spoken, what will you do with your words?
Will you speak beauty, will you uplift with your words? Do tell me. Leave me some words in the comments as I leave you with these immortal words –
Luke 6:45 The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings out that which is good, and the evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings out that which is evil, for out of the abundance of the heart, his mouth speaks.
(The inspiration for this piece came from God and from my close friend, Charles Noel)