A lesson in communication from a King and a pope

| January 20, 2011 | 0 Comments

“In the beginning was the Word,” begins the Gospel according to John.

The Word, of course, is Jesus, who is at the heart and soul of our faith.

But “the word” with a small “w” — the written and spoken word — also is an integral part of our faith. God speaks to us through the inspired words of Sacred Scripture that we hear proclaimed at every Mass. And, the Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us: “In the sacred books, the Father who is in heaven comes lovingly to meet his children, and talks with them.”

As a newspaper staff, we also understand the power of words to communicate important information, thoughts and ideas. Words can inspire people, motivate them and build them up.

But the flip side is also true: Words can be used intentionally or carelessly and do harm to others. They can poison discussion and tear people down.

The choice of the words we use to communicate with others in our everyday lives is something we should pay more attention to, particularly as we consider some events that have happened in the last several weeks.

Time to reassess

One of those events is the recent shooting in Arizona that claimed the life of six people and injured 14 others, including U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. A debate has subsequently ensued about whether the often polarized and sometimes harsh tone of political discourse in our country creates a climate that makes such tragedies more likely to happen.

It would be difficult to make a direct connection between any person’s specific words and what happened outside the supermarket in Tucson. But we would be missing the bigger picture if we didn’t turn this into an opportunity to re-evaluate how we as members of society communicate with one another.

No one, of course, wants to muffle robust political discourse; the United States after all was founded in part because of the energetic exchange of ideas in the public square. Such discourse is the hallmark of a democracy.

But that doesn’t mean our communications shouldn’t be measured, civil and charitable, no matter the situation. Too many talk radio hosts and online blog authors — those who represent the polarities of the political and theological spectrum — use words that demonize those with whom they disagree, words that seek to tear others down, words that produce more fire than light.

As Christians, we need to be concerned about the language we use and be examples to others that it is possible to be forthright, honest and truthful without sacrificing civility and respect for others.

Two examples

Just this past week, our nation commemorated Martin Luther King Jr. Day — a time to remember the pioneering civil rights work of a man who dedicated his life to freedom, justice and nonviolence.

King was a man who understood the power that words have to inspire others to greater things, to challenge people to think more deeply, to change attitudes, to build people up instead of tearing them down.

Pope John Paul II, who we recently learned will be beatified in May, had a similar gift for using words to inspire people to greater things — just ask those in his native Poland who were roused to shake off the yoke of communist oppression and embrace their faith at a difficult time in their country’s history.

These two individuals offer good examples of how words can be used to help create a better life for all. Scripture and the words of Jesus have that same power.

Let’s not diminish the impact our words have on those close to us and on our communities. Words said in haste or anger, as anyone who has spoken them knows, can have long-term harmful effects that are difficult to heal.

The words we use do, indeed, matter. We need to choose them wisely and always remember that the God who created us also created the person on the other end of the conversation.

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Category: Editorials, Spotlight