What we say matters. How we say what we say matters. Speech is a way of action, one that can build or destroy relationships. When on Thursday, January 3, AC Milan's Kevin Prince Boateng left the field - and when his team joined him in solidarity - because of racist chants from a section of the audience, we were all reminded of the power of speech in shaping our world and how peaceful response to violent words should call us back to our better selves. (The Guardian 4 January 2013)
Words are a way for us to be in relationship with each other. How we use them, the stories we tell, the accusations we make, the songs we sing, the legislation we craft, the affection we share, the wisdom we study, the struggles we have matter. Words are a form of action, and they can hurt terribly. We have responsibilities to one another, and pretending that we don't, or being self-defensive when our words have been hurtful and wrong shirks those responsibilities.
Of course, the violent, scornful, bitter, and blistering our words regularly are, the more difficult it is to share words that show our whole hearts, and allow others to connect with us in ways that can change that anger, fear, and sorrow into stronger love, greater hope, and deeper comfort in challenging times. The more aggressive and violent our everyday speech, the higher the stakes - and the greater the need - for us to risk vulnerability and live differently.
I know riding the wave of angry and blistering speech well. I've blasted it and I've received it. After the satisfaction of the blasting speech, though, I've felt hollow, and needed to retreat further and fire off again, rather than sit with that awful emptiness and dread of retaliation. After being on the receiving end for a while, I've felt hollow and needed to retreat further and disengage, because I don't want to risk my heart anymore, especially when I feel itchy and want to turn around and blaze back.
What we say matters. How we say it matters. If we are to be kind, generous, loving, compassionate, justice-seeking, and peace-building people, then we have to risk faithfully to be vulnerable in how we speak and how we listen. We have a responsibility to one another to make space and honor the vulnerability we show in engaging, really engaging in all our differences, around the problems, challenges, opportunities, and issues of our lives.
Starting a conversation with accusation rarely invites anything but counter-accusation. Let's commit to seeking each other out more generously.
Epithets don't bring us closer. Let's practice the Golden Rule a bit, and not be quite so bluff as we might assert that we could easily take what we've been dishing out.
Speech that dismisses indicates you believe we have no need of one another. At that point, until circumstances change, the dismissed has a right to turn away. Yes, we do not want the racist, sexist, homophobic, classist, ableist, xenophobic word to be the last one or to determine our relationships, but sometimes disengagement is the best mirror of the speech act offered. Dismiss me and I will retreat for a while.
As faithful people, we have to risk faithfully. That means also attending to our speech, and inviting each other into conversations that matter, build relationship, and change our world for the better. We all have that power -- however we communicate. It is risky to share our dreams, our ideas, our feelings, and our thoughts. It is risky to really attend to others' dreams, ideas, feelings, and thoughts. We are exquisitely vulnerable offering ourselves up and making space to honor and attend to others' vulnerable offerings. Yet this is where the really important and almost magical events of life happen - how peace is made, how lovers grow closer, how legislation that works is drafted, debated and passed, and how we delight in arts, sports, and simply being together.