At one point in his ministry our Lord tells us, “Let your yes mean yes and your no mean no.” There is an intrinsic power and truth to words that must be respected. Words convey reality. John at the very beginning of his gospel gives us a glimpse into this profound connection of words and reality when he writes,
To respect words and their conveyance of reality is to show respect to the very foundation of reality. To manipulate words is to seek to manipulate truth and to instead choose falsity and illusion over reality. The manipulation of words is itself a violent act. It is an act of self-centered pride ultimately doomed to frustration and failure precisely because it is based in falsity.
These conversations have led me to the essay, “Abuse of Language, Abuse of Power” by Josef Pieper. I would like to share a few quotes from his essay that I believe are worthy of note and consideration.
Pieper then goes on to flesh out the interpersonal character of speech by the use of a negative:
Further Pieper writes,
Pieper then carries this through to a prophetic warning,
The degradation, too, of man through man, alarmingly evident in the acts of physical violence committed by all tyrannies (concentration camps, torture), has its beginning, certainly much less alarmingly, at the almost imperceptible moment when the word loses its dignity. The dignity of the word, to be sure, consists in this: through the word is accomplished what no other means can accomplish, namely, communication based on reality.
I share this because I believe we live in a time when language is being abused and manipulated. The temptation in this is to return “like for like.” But here is where the above quoted teaching of our Lord is essentially important for the disciple. When so many seem to prefer the choice of illusion over reality; disciples, all the more, must make sure that our yes means yes and our no means no. Ours is and must be a different choice.
By so doing we will all the more stand out and our words, rather than just being “mere monologue” that might have flash but really accomplish nothing, will harmonize with the very truth of creation and even share in the very power of that truth.