If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels

I have had the privilege of being in a rehearsal room this week. Thinking about language. Reading Shakespeare’s words and allowing them to dwell in me, to fully exhaust the possibilities of their meaning. To decant the language and let it steep for a while.

For five days, sitting round the table with fifteen brilliant minds, just looking at words. What one person says to another person, how that affects them, how they respond. What that reveals.

I have been thinking a lot about the power of words, their power to harm and their power to do good.

It has left me thinking if only we took the time to consider what we said as though it was going to be studied in 400 years time, maybe we would use our language differently.

At one point one actor, discussing puritanism in Elizabethan England, mentioned the scripture that the Puritans took to heart in 2 Timothy where it says “The whole of scripture is given by the inspiration of God and is profitable to teach, to correct, to convince and to instruct in righteousness”. The Puritans believed this was their mission – that it was their duty to do the convincing and the instructing of the lives of excess they saw around them. They abused misconstrued this passage to justify their zealous and self-righteousness rebuking of their contemporaries. Unfortunately this practise hasn’t entirely died out, even 400 years on.

Actors around the table nodding, ‘yes, this is how many people of faith I know are…’. And, to be honest, me agreeing, ‘yes, this is how some people of faith I know are too.’

Judging, patronising and full of the law… is there anything more offensive?

Words can be dangerous things.

Another moment, another brilliant mind, but this time talking about the power of language in combatting anxiety disorder. How by saying aloud positive words, rehearsing positive ideas, it was possible to stop living under the a cloud of anxiety. Their reality was changed by the words used to describe it.

Words can be powerful things.

The brain responds according to the instruction it is given. And therein lies the rub. What will I instruct it with?

Will I instruct it with I need, I must, I should, or will I instruct it with words of kindness and grace, words of hope and opportunity, words that enlarge the space in which I live rather than shut it down. Will I speak anxiety, fear, and catastrophe into my day or will I instruct courage, adventure and possibility as I set out.

Maybe if we took more time to stop and think about the words we said it would save a lot of unnecessary pain.

(I use the word ‘unnecessary’ advisedly, as some pain is necessary. CS Lewis said “Try to exclude the possibility of suffering and you find that you have excluded the life itself.” Hard to hear and true).

But there is so much pain caused by words that is unneeded, unwarranted… unnecessary.

Words we don’t have to use. Words if we stopped and thought about we never would use.

Note to self: The power of life and death is in the tongue. Remember that.

(Another note to self: Even a fool can appear wise by remaining silent. Remember that too.)


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