On Being Careful about What We Say

I remember sitting in the back row of the bus coming home from school one day in sixth grade. I learned a new word and I couldn’t wait to find a chance to use it.

I came home, did my regular 11 or 12 year old things, and then found a chance to use it just before dinner.

I do not remember if my mom actually washed my mouth out with soap or if she threatened to if I ever said it again.

Real or imagined memory, I can still taste the soap.

I’m not even talking, though, about the don’t-use-curse-words kind of “being careful about what we say.”

I am talking about being careful about what we say in our everyday, going about life, language. Words have power and sometimes they inflict terrible harm or amazingly bless.

On Wednesday I wrote a post about Pete Seeger, the State of the Union, and Calling Each Other Names and it was fairly heavily read. I spent about three hours writing 600 words and worked carefully to make a point without offending anyone.

I knew that anything I said about the State of the Union Address and, by implication, President Obama would be read from many different perspectives. I feel like it was fair and generated some good conversation.

Since then, I’ve been thinking more generally about the language we use with each other.

I have spent all of my adult life speaking publicly in arenas where people are often easily offended. I have spent thousands of hours over the last thirty plus years preaching and teaching and I have learned to be very careful about every word I say.

In addition, I cannot even imagine the thousand upon thousands of hours or words I have spent in everyday speech in my life. A quick search online gives guesstimates that people speak between 100 and 800 million words in a lifetime.

Who knows how many words we say, but there are certainly many opportunities to be careful about what we say in everyday activities and speech.

We should be careful because words can destroy or create. 

Call a child stupid and she may never believe she can learn. Call a child brilliant and she may believe she can be president.

Label a person a liar and he may never be trusted. Label a person as trustworthy and he may hold the world on his shoulders.

Spread gossip about someone and ruin a reputation. Defend a person’s actions and protect a family.

You can change lives with your words, so choose your words carefully. 

Proverbs reminds us that speaking too much can cause us problems (10.19) and that pleasant words are healing to people (16.24). What we say and how we say it matters to people.

Ultimately, we are responsible for everything we say. Whether we write it on a blog or post it on Facebook as a comment the words we write come from us. What we say to a co-worker, to our children, and to our spouses or friends reflect who we are.

Every word that comes out of our mouth, written or spoken, extends us into the life of another person. It is not only who we want to be to them that matters, but who we want them to be and how our words change them.

Always remember you can change a life with your words.

Let’s be careful about what we say to each other . . . .



  • Dara

    Thanks again for the reminders. Good words.

    • DarrellGwaltney

      You’re welcome, Dara!

  • Hear hear!