In Act 2, Scene II of Shakespeare’s Hamlet we find a conversation between the young prince and Polonius as Hamlet is on the verge of breaking down into madness (which may have actually been the only way to cope with the truth of his disintegrating world). But in the midst of this conversation Hamlet is asked about what he is reading and his response, “Words, Words, Words.” A simple response to what was happening, but loaded with depth. After all, one does simply read words. And when one is speaking they simply speak words. But aren’t words more than that?
One of the amazing things about getting to raise children is seeing their speech development take place. My twenty month old has been extremely entertaining to her older siblings as she masters one word at a time…milk, book, walk (she really likes the k sound). But as humans we are set apart by our ability to master speech and use it to communicate within our species (even as I type this I am in awe of the fact that I can hit symbols on a keyboard that translate into a message comprehended by the reader). But simply because we can master a certain ability does not give us free reign to use it in any way we see fit. Just because I can swing a baseball bat doesn’t mean I get to go around and swing it at anyone I want to. And the same is true with words.
Ephesians 4:29 says, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” Now I have heard this used as a proof-text to argue against cursing (cussing for all you southerners like me) or dirty jokes. Which I think could go without saying. But I think the crux of the verse is the question as to whether or not our words are edifying those around us. I would almost you rather cuss at me to help me realize where I am missing the mark with Christ than to go around and slander me behind my back. At least in confronting me with harsh language you aren’t involving a larger audience in your tear down words.
Speaking of, one of the things I think we fail to see is that most of the time (except for those padded room moments) when we speak we have an audience. Almost like Hamlet we are but actors in the world (actually from As You Like it, but go with me here) and we are performing out our lives before a multitude of audiences. Are we building up those audiences or would we get scathing reviews from our performances? After all, they aren’t just words, words, words. Shouldn’t we measure them before we utter them? Shouldn’t we take into account our audience, as any good actor would, and think about the outcome? And shouldn’t we, when the curtain eventually does fall, be proud of our performance and how we got our lines right? Just think about this as your little cue card…