The Cost of Words
Words matter. Words are important.
I had a professor in my first year of law school who said this more than once, maybe before then-candidate Obama famously told us that words matter. This admonition sticks with me in the rote of my job where I am reminded of the economic and societal cost of words daily.
I also dwell on the import of things said when words I flippantly and reflexively say re-collect in an echo back to me, sounding in the sweet cadence of a toddler.
I am aware that not everyone is a lawyer and shares the same need or desire to deal with words in precision, to be exacting in what they communicate. And likewise, not everyone has the privilege of an audience of children’s ears, ever vigilant, so as to never miss something new whether muttered, shouted, or laughed.
Nevertheless, no one can credibly dispute this maxim. Words matter—they hold weight, meaning—and they shape our world because all humans are communicative and relational.
I think it is important that I state my politics only briefly and in all respect: I did not vote for President Trump.
What I hope none of us lose sight of is that what our President says, and, more importantly, what we say, matters. They’re not just words, folks. We can disagree on many things, but I do not think we can disagree on this point. Oftentimes, we are deceived into thinking that, because words often cost us nothing more than our own breath, they are worthless.
This is not so, and I know you will agree with me because you, too, can remember a time or two in your life where something someone said (maybe you were the one saying it) really stuck to you, and it still holds onto you to this very day.
Words are costly. I am reminded of when Jesus asked his disciples who people were saying that Jesus was. Peter’s enthusiastic response was correct, but he did not realize the full burden of those words until later when, with words, he denied Christ. Like Peter, we may not always know the price of our words when we say them. But we cannot pretend that they are without cost.
The cumulative cost of our words is what the words say about us.
So, when I talk to you and you to me, let us remember the words that stick with us, then reflect on the words we might say, then speak.
I hope the words say something that enriches our community. I hope that is the case, even if it is something that we would rather not hear said about ourselves.
Words matter. So speak. Listen.