The wise person knows the power that words have to injure, or to heal. This kind of wisdom is rooted in love; it recognizes the infinite dignity that the other is made in and offers the proper respect that is due.
How often have we been guilty of speaking too quickly and too rashly? How often have we accused another of some wrong, only to find out that we had misinterpreted, or that we had accused wrongly? On the other hand, how often have we been slashed and cut by the sword-like words, or the rash accusations of another? The problem is that when words and judgmental accusations are spoken in this manner the damage has already been done and it is very difficult to recover from the injury. So much suffering is caused by words spoken in this way. As in all proverbs, the second half of this one offers a contrasting truth: “But the tongue of the wise brings healing.”
What, then, is the difference between the rash and the wise? Those who are rash speak their words from the highly charged heat of emotions. Emotions are real, and they are very powerful. They can enrich our lives when they are experienced in their proper balance and proportion, but they can also be the blind source of much injury and harm, when they are not. Words are also powerful. Remember the childish chant we all used to sing on the playground, “Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” It didn’t take long before we realized the flaw in that chant. Words did, and do, hurt us. The insensitive use of a word can cause great injury. A false accusation made rashly out of anger, or ignorance can ruin a career. Why? Because we often listen rashly as well. Especially in the heat of emotion.
The wise person, on the other hand, has learned to listen first. He or she has learned to take time, and to consider the truthfulness of the words he or she uses, as well their potential effects on those they are directed toward, or about. The wise person knows the power that words have to injure, or to heal. This kind of wisdom is rooted in love; it recognizes the infinite dignity that the other is made in and offers the proper respect that is due. If an accusation is true, and backed by the evidence, the wise person speaks words that are rooted both in respectful challenge and in forgiveness. Where there has been injury, the wise person offers the possibility of pardon, believing in the other’s ability to grow from his or her mistakes. The wise person humbly recognizes that he or she is a sinner too, that he or she is often in need of mercy. The wise person treats [or speaks to] the other as he, or she, wishes to be treated [or spoken to] by the other. The wise person has come to know that: Where there is no love, there can be no mercy, and where there is no mercy, there can be no justice. The wise person is moved by the desire to heal, not by the desire to harm. He or she is moved by mercy and reconciliation, rather than by power.
The challenge for all of us in this proverb, is to look at the way we are prone to speak in times of pressure. Are we too rash, too quick to use our words as swords? Or are we learning to take more responsibility in our speech? Do we use our words as a means for getting revenge, or for causing harm, or for gaining power over another? Or do we use our words to heal the rifts that arise in our relationships? Do we speak before thinking of the potential effects of our words? Or do we take the time to listen, to consider the value and the purpose of our words, before we utter them? If we find that we use our words too often as swords, we can learn to turn away from that. God’s grace can always be counted on.
Lord, help us to speak wisely in all of our communications. We pray that you give us the graces that we need to make our tongues wise so that our words can bring healing where it is needed. Help us to speak only kindness and mercy, rather than speech that causes harm. Turn what is rash in us into that which is wise. We pray this in the name of Jesus. Amen!
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