Sunday, July 09, 2006

Power of Words

You say what you mean whether you mean to or not.

Luke 6:45 A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil.
For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.

This topic strikes me as important given the verbal storm sweeping through the blogosphere started by Dr. Deb Frisch at the Protein Wisdom blog by Jeff Goldstein (currently suffering on/off again Denial of Service attacks. Oy.).

One commenter going by the Republican On Acid quoted this anecdote attributed to NRO (longish):
A child of, or at any rate a descendant of, the Enlightenment, with an early training in science and mathematics, I am inclined to think that words are basically patterns of vibrating molecules in air. The idea that singing about the Angel of Death might attract old Azrael’s attention to my inconspicuous little suburban homestead seems preposterous. On reflection, though, I am not so sure of myself. I recall a dinner-party conversation I heard many years ago. The two participants were (A) a college friend of mine, a mathematician of keen intellect who was a single man at the time, and (B) the wife of a friend of his, a woman at about the same level of intelligence, but very practical, skeptical, and atheistic. She was also the doting mother of two small children. The woman had claimed that words are nothing but what I have just said they are — patterns of vibration in the air. They have no power. “All right,” said my friend. “Please repeat the following words after me: ‘I hope that my children will soon die from lingering, painful, and disfiguring illnesses.’” The woman would not say those words. He pressed her, but she firmly refused. “Why not?” asked my friend. “They are only words — vibrating molecules. Why won’t you say them?” She would not say them because she knew what we all know in our bones, however much science and math has been pumped into our brains, and however much we may scoff at the supernatural: that words do have power, that the world is not just a cold tissue of atoms and molecules, that without some reference to the supernatural, nothing makes sense — as paradoxical as that seems. No, I won’t be singing “The Angel of Death” around the house any more, not even when I’m here alone. Look what happened to Hank Williams.” - John Derbyshire

When Deb Frisch said "you are not human to me" and this:

Ooh. Two year old boy. Sounds hot. You live in Colorado, I see. Hope no one Jon-Benets your baby.

Are you still married to the woman you humped to produce the toddler?

One must wonder not at just her words but her heart. Most normal people do not think these thoughts, never mind say them. Now, hyperbole, satire, sadistic wit, and verbal sparring are par for the course on certain weblogs. Jeff's blog exemplifies this. And yet, her words shock because they are not exaggerated, funny, witty or playful. They seem to say what is exactly in her heart.

A similar situation in real life: the person who verbalizes suicide threats. Just like Ms. Frisch, the words can be viewed as an empty, threatening, manipulative, narcissistic verbalization meant to terrorize others or get attention; or they can be all of those things in addition to being the precursor to the action. Since people cannot divine someone's mind, the words must be taken seriously as a revelation of their heart's true intent.

There is no doubt in my mind that Ms. Frisch wishes Jeff Goldstein harm. In fact, I believe she has so dehumanized him that any injury to himself or to his child or to his wife would be cheered and celebrated by her. In fact, she represents a definite belief system on the far left in this country--one that believes the U.S. would be better off if the President and anyone who believes like him is dead. All I know, is this Presiden'ts secret service must be working overtime--so many people have verbalized fantasies inhabited previously only by the John Hinkleys of the world.

Dr. Helen rightly notes in a comment about all this that:
I think the left says mean things because in the past, they have been able to get away with it in the universities, media, etc. where it was considered "normal" but now there is alternative media where their views are challenged and found to be lacking and as a result, their rage has escalated as their stranglehold on the media and the country is being broken. The lashing out is the anger that comes from a loss of power and ego. [emphasis added]

Generalizing this episode to regular civilian life, people underestimate their words. I think much of the world's pain starts with thoughts, gestates, becomes words and ends with actions. Here are some unbelievably loaded words that people throw around when stressed or otherwise pissed off and intending to do harm or conversely trying to get something that they want the easy way:

  • Divorce: "Maybe we should just get divorced." (I don't want criticism at all.)
  • Crazy: "You're just crazy." (Delegitimize the other's argument by attacking them.)
  • Love: "I love you." (I want to have sex really bad and will say anything to get it.)
  • Marriage: "How many kids should we have when we get married?" (Dating three weeks.)
  • Liar: "You're such a liar!" (I don't like it when you disagree with me.)
I'm sure you can think of more words. The words themselves carry energy, of course. But it's the way they are used that increases their innate power.

The number of clients I know who have thrown around "divorce" like it's nothing astounds me. And they wonder why and mourn their sad, sometimes unwise, divorces! That word comes too easily to the lips of a distressed couple these days. As if the word is meaningless. It has meaning. It is meant to be a verbal razor and guess what? It is.

Is no one taught to disagree without being disagreeable anymore? It is possible to debate and disagree, vehemently, and enjoy the conversation. For many immature, insecure people this notion is anathema. In order to be friends or to even like you, perfect agreement must always be enjoyed. How silly! First of all, your world shrinks to become a self-congratulatory emotional stroking rather than a stimulating learning environment. Forget iron sharpens iron. There is only dichotomy: either you believe like me or you are my enemy. The Anchoress reveals the way to approach true enemies (scroll down). See? "Enemy"--one more word used in excess in today's overheated environment.

If you believe, this is what Jesus said about the power of words:

Matthew 12:34-37 Brood of vipers! How can you, being evil, speak good things? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. 35 A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things, and an evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things. 36 But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment. 37 For by your words you will be justified , and by your words you will be condemned."

Every. Idle. Word. Here's a thought (and I remind myself here, too): when in doubt, don't say anything at all. Kind words always work, too.


vj said...

An interesting study can be made using the Strong's Concordance and looking up the word "tongue". Then put the scriptures in context and it is amazing what we learn about this little member of ours.

Michael van der Galien said...

Magnificent post! I am a firm believer in the power of words. Indeed, I am a Christian: the Bible does not make a secret out of it. In fact it emphasizes this 'word power' on many occasions.

A year or something ago, I delibarately started changing the words I used: no more 'impossible' (with God everything is possible) 'unbelievable' etc. It really has quite an impact. Now, I don't even think like I used to think anymore. Not only do words have 'creative power' I believe Americans call it, but they also have 'inner power'. What I mean with that is that it's not just "you say what you think", for instance that Deb Frisch who insults Goldstein bigtime, threatening his child, etc. (it must come from the inside indeed; she must mean at least some of it), but also that what you say, forms you. For instance, if one feels good but - as a matter of experiment - starts talking, constantly, negative, one will start feeling negative.
If one feels negative but one purposely start talking positive, one will start feeling positively.

So it works 'both' ways.