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,

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.  In him was life, and the life was the light of men.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.  (John 1:1-5)

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. 

Over the past few weeks I have had three different conversations (initiated by others, I would add) on the power of words and attempts to manipulate and distort words. 

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. 

Human words and language, accomplish a twofold purpose…  First, words convey reality.  We speak in order to name and identify something this is real, to identify it for someone, of course – and this points to the second aspect in question, the interpersonal character of human speech. 

Pieper then goes on to flesh out the interpersonal character of speech by the use of a negative:

Can a lie be taken as communication?  I tend to deny it.  A lie is the opposite of communication.  It means specifically to withhold the other’s share and portion of reality, to prevent his participation in reality.  And so: corruption of the relationship to reality, and corruption of communication – these evidently are the two possible forms in which the corruption of the word manifests itself. 

Further Pieper writes,

Any discourse detached from the norms of reality is at the same time mere monologue.   What does it mean, after all, to be detached from the norms of reality?  It means indifference regarding the truth.

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.