Photograph by Mitchell Kmetz via Unsplash

Three ways to make your words change the world

July 2, 2024

Words and how we use them make our world.

Nelson Mandela, the former president of South Africa and anti-apartheid leader, once said, “when you speak a language, English, well many people understand you, including Afrikaners, but when you speak Afrikaans, you know you go straight to their hearts.”[1] Having a shared language is critical to communication, especially when working through conflict. Words are so utterly important in our personal and national life.

Words have the power to bring people together and the power to divide.

Nick Bilton, writer for the New York Times, shared in his article, “The American Diet: 34 Gigabytes a Day,” a 2008 report by the University of California, San Diego that found “the average American consumes 34 gigabytes of content and 100,000 words of information in a single day.” In his TED talk, “Does Language Bring Us Together or Pull Us Apart?” biologist Dr. Mark Pagel explained that language is the rails upon which we build our lives. In addition, words implant ideas in people’s minds by which our world is shaped and perceived. Neuroscience research has shown that words directly impact the brain. Neuroimaging studies have revealed that when we read or hear certain words, specific brain regions light up. Words can trigger the release of neurotransmitters such as dopamine and cortisol, which influence our emotions and perceptions. Positive words can stimulate feelings of happiness and motivation, while negative words can lead to stress and anxiety. This underscores the link between the language we use and our emotional states.

Therapists tell us that words can heal wounds and empower individuals. Storytelling and language help us reframe our experiences, both positive and negative, and find new perspectives. Expressing thoughts and emotions through words can provide a sense of relief and understanding, facilitating the healing process.

With all this input of language and information, shouldn’t we Christians be able to put our words to better use in relationships, politics, on social media, and in our communities?

Our current political and religious climate clearly reveals that we need to disagree better. What do I mean by that? Conflict is the process of working out our differences. The tenor of our conflict in the public sphere needs to improve dramatically. If we find ourselves in disagreement, conflict, or challenge, here are three things we can learn from how Jesus approaches conflict.

The tenor of our conflict in the public sphere needs to improve dramatically. If we find ourselves in disagreement, conflict, or challenge, here are three things we can learn from how Jesus approaches conflict.

First, Jesus used words of curiosity by asking questions. Jesus used his recorded words wisely. In a very fascinating way, Jesus spoke on many topics but utilized his words wisely by asking 307 questions in the four Gospels. Clearly, Jesus was very interested in the engagement of dialogue, ideas, and concepts. This should tell us something about how we speak and use words. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus asked, “Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” (Luke 10:36) Jesus sought input in his parables and used questions to draw people deeper into relationship and transformation.

Second, Jesus used words of hospitality. In Matthew 5:44-46 (NIV), Jesus proclaimed: “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get?” Even our enemies (personal or partisan) require our hospitality. If we want to change people’s minds, we need to start changing our hearts on how we can treat people better.

Third, Jesus used words of grace. I am sure you have experienced betrayal, wrongdoing, or deception in your life. The human instinct is to return wrong with wrong, hurt for hurt, or lie for lie. However, Jesus did not approach conflict to match wits or attacks. In Luke 5, Jesus heals the sick. Friends lower a man into a house, and Jesus says, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.” How often have you said, “Your sins are forgiven” to your family or friend?

Scripture differentiates between words alone and wisdom. Proverbs 18:4 (NIV) proclaims, “The words of the mouth are deep waters, but the fountain of wisdom is a rushing stream.” With our mouths, we can use words to ask questions and extend hospitality and grace to unlock goodness and kindness in people’s lives.

The Rev. Dr. Alan Rudnick, Th.D. is an author and Senior Minister at DeWitt Community Church, DeWitt, NY., He is a former member of the board of directors for American Baptist Home Mission Societies, board of General Ministries and Mission Council of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of American Baptist Home Mission Societies.

[1] Lessons from a Translingual Romance: Conflict and Cultural Innovation of Intercultural Couples. Jieun Kiaer and ‎Hyejeong Ahn, 2023. 55

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