Words. Both inconceivably powerful and inescapably limited.
I have been thinking about words a lot lately. Specifically I have been thinking about how I hold the words I use. Too often I pay too little attention and offer too little criticism to them. This has often resulted in me–a gentle and usually loving guy–spitting words that carry undertones that are deeply offensive to folks of specific races, genders, sexual orientations, economic statuses, and probably a lot more.
When I bring this topic up among friends I usually get one of two responses.
1. It is not on me if they “choose” to be offended when they know I don’t “mean” it “that way”.
2. If someone says you have offended them, you should play it safe and stop using that word, phrase, etc.
All of my friends seem to be pretty convinced that if everyone else agreed with their take all would be made well. Of course we don’t all agree. So, where do we go from here?
When I think about this conversation I feel that there is one pretty crucial piece missing–conversation.
Instead what we usually end up with is posturing, a lot of pride, and a lot of adding to the tension that surrounds the words we choose to use.
So how can we move beyond the posturing and into conversation? In my limited understanding of that word, I see a dance between talking and listening with listening leading the way.
At Mile High Ministries we are currently neck deep in this conversation as it pertains to “What” we do and “Who” we do it…to…or with…or something. Honestly it’s pretty confusing and I sometimes feel tempted to throw up my hands and plant myself firmly with my friends who offer the first response previously mentioned. But I believe it’s worth the trouble to critically look at how our words impact those around us.
Our words are incredibly limited, especially in the context of spirituality–which is why poetry and art are often a better communicator of such things than essays and text books. But we would be foolish to deny that our words also carry great power. The proof of that can be seen in many examples of racism, sexism, abuse, counseling, poetry, and love letters.
What are we saying beneath what we are saying? Do we even know? Is there often a great distance between what I “mean” and what you “hear”? Are we willing to join a conversation with and about our words?