Death and Life are in the Power of the Tongue

Proverbs 18:21 says, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue…”.  I would like to share my thoughts on how I interpret that statement.

First, why do we speak? How do we speak? Are the words that we speak coming from our inner self or outer self? Are they coming from our inner spirit or simply uttered by impulse?

We speak for a reason. There must be a reason when someone speaks. Otherwise the subject would become mental illness. I am not touching on situations where people bear some kind of mental illness so they speak for no reason.

When we speak we want to deliver a message. When a baby learns to speak it wants to tell you something or asks for something that it needs. At school our teachers speak because they want to deliver a lesson, a piece of knowledge, a fact or an experience. At work we speak to our colleagues because we need to collaborate with each other and to convey information among ourselves.

So, why do I truly believe in the statement “Death and life are in the power of the tongue”?

War, for example, is the most horrible thing in the world. How does a conflict get started? When people in two countries (or more) hate each other, the first thing they do is to use their mouth to speak bad words to each other. They use their writing and speaking power to deliver their words and to get consensus among themselves, people who are important to them, whom they must convince in order to gain their trust. When these words are powerful enough to trigger anger, hatred, conflict and anxiety, and the leaders feel that they are being confronted and fear that their home and their people are at risk, a war is then called for.

We do not hate people by their behavior. We hate people by their words (be they in speech form or in writing). We all have a natural tendency to choose to hate the bad, and turn blind to the good. It is always easy to forget good memories. On the contrary, bad memories are usually very difficult to be wiped out. We know people by their speech, their words, not by how well they keep their body shape, how sharp their outfit is or how rich they have made themselves (though we want to know their success story but it would be more persuasive if it came from their mouth).

Conversely, people know us by what we say (in speech or in writing). Job interview involves the interviewer bringing up the conversation and encouraging the candidate to speak. This is because one must base on listening (not just writing) to determine the inner state of mind of the other person. Your boss will not call you a good employee by you just doing your work quietly if he has no way to talk to you or write to you. Your friends will not call you a close friend by you just sending them cards if they have no way to talk to you or write to you.

Are the words we speak really so influential and powerful enough to cause life and death? I would say it depends on who was speaking, when did that person speak, where and to whom. The same speech that is spoken by two different people at different scenes can have entirely different effects. Take the example of two TV reporters. The first reporter is being broadcasted live from the war zone. The second reporter is reading the newsflash from the studio. Which one would you believe more?

Nowadays when we “speak”, we don’t necessarily need to use our mouth (our vocal cord). We can also use our hand. We use our hand to write (or type) what we speak. We live in the Internet age. What is spoken can (be it intentional or not) conveniently be transcribed into writing. Writing can be posted on the Internet and in theory (I mean technically speaking) it remains as a piece of information that permanently resides somewhere and cannot be erased for as long as time permits and that can propagate along to the next generations. What that means is, whatever once written down shall remain forever.




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