Our Words Matter – Thoughts on Neighbourly Reconciliation
Let’s see, oh right, it is time to update my Facebook status. Right I want to express how I want to keep warm and that I wish this cold of mine would go away. Here we go then – Tasks today to stay warm and beat this cold into submission. Hang on a moment, ‘beat into submission’, this could cause my sister and others to be triggered. Let me think of another way to say this. Now I have it – Tasks today to stay warm and throw this cold off. That my friends is the thought process I had recently and it got me thinking about the words we use and how they affect others.
My sister, who has given me permission to share this, is a domestic violence survivor. She and her children went through a lot and they are now working on their healing journey. It is by being in a close relationship with her that I have discovered that using words like beat, throw down, hit, and others can be emotional triggers for her and other survivors. Triggers that put them back into the place of the abuse and leave them feeling vulnerable and afraid again. I never want her and other survivors to feel that way again.
Our words matter. They do, they can be healing or they can be scarring. We have a choice as Christians to make as we speak about our neighbours, whether they be like us or be different from us. Even with those words I have set up a distance between myself and others. Our words do matter.
St. Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus and said this, “Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear.” (Ephesians 4:29) It seems to me that St. Paul is reminding us that our words do matter. How we say them, what we say and who we say them about.
Working on neighbourly reconciliation is like that. When I speak about First Nations neighbours what words do I use? Do I use native, Indians, savages? I hope that most of you shook your heads when you read that last word in particular. No I use the words that I have been asked to use, First Nations, First Peoples, Indigenous. I use words like community rather than reserve. I use words like friend and elder to describe the people that I work with and live beside.
The next time you find yourself talking about the First Nation community down the road or Indigenous people who live in your community ask yourself what are you going to say. Are you going to use words that build up and give grace or are you going to use words that tear down and give grief? Our words matter because they reflect what is in hearts.
Working for neighbourly reconciliation is hard work and it means changing our own attitudes first. That can start by choosing our words carefully and thoughtfully, because our words do matter.
This was first published in The Messenger the diocesan paper for the Diocese of Edmonton.