If You Ruled The World
“A word fitly spoken
is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.” – Proverbs 25:11
Words are important. Everyone should love words. They are the tools of creation, the manifestation of thought, one of the ways in which man is made in the image of God. Whether written or spoken, they have the potential to change the world. For better or for worse.
Did you know that there are almost 200,000 words in the English language? About one quarter of those are adjectives. That’s a lot to choose from. And yet our popular culture shows a remarkable lack of variety in its choice of adjectives. When was the last time you saw a movie or read a book that didn’t use some degrading form of profanity? Over and over again.
I was thinking about the issue of word usage this morning as I was doing my daily reading in the Proverbs. Since today is October 15, I read chapter 15, and I was amazed at how many verses in that one chapter referenced something about words. Out of the thirty-three verses in Proverbs 15, I counted nine that directly referenced words. Here are a few:
“The tongue of the wise commends knowledge,
but the mouths of fools pour out folly.” – Proverbs 15:2
“A gentle tongue is a tree of life,
but perverseness in it breaks the spirit.” – Proverbs 15:4
“To make an apt answer is a joy to a man,
and a word in season, how good it is!” – Proverbs 15:23
“The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer,
but the mouth of the wicked pours out evil things.” – Proverbs 15:28
Unfortunately, most of us are guilty of using words as weapons of destruction at one time or other. Remember when you cruelly gossiped about a friend and your hurtful words got back to her? Or how about that email you shot off in anger and came to regret?
Clearly, all of us need to be more careful about what we say and what we write. So here’s my challenge: If you ruled the world, what would you do to fix this problem?
I’ll go first. If I ruled the world, I would require everyone to read a chapter in Proverbs every day. Since there are 31 chapters in Proverbs, it’s easy to remember which one to read. Just read the one with the same number as the date. Every month you will have read the entire book of Proverbs through (except for the months with less than 31 days, but that’s okay) and you can start the next month at the beginning.
The Book of Proverbs is overflowing with practical wisdom beyond the use of words. It teaches us to be honest and generous, to refrain from gossip and cheating, to give to the poor, to beware being used by other people, and so on. Reading the simple straightforward verses over and over changes you. And it may just change the world.
- What law would you legislate if you ruled the world?
Interesting bog, Kay. The coarsening of our interactions bothers me too. In our current culture, it seems like everyone thinks they rule the world. Vulgarity has become chic, and coarse and filthy words are used as substitutes for most nouns and adjectives. It’s indication of a dumbing-down of our vocabulary and the deteriorating quality of our interactions. The craziest thing is that these vulgarities are used so often that they mean absolutely nothing. Instead of raising eyebrows, these vulgar tirades make us laugh with their absurdity. And you only need to read comments made on “social media” sites to understand that we no longer respect each other enough to have a discussion of facts rather than spewing opinions with the intent to shut others using the ugliest of words and accusations. I agree that Proverbs is a good place to start in changing this. Wisdom, civility, and respect starts with knowing God. Our interactions grow from this and should become an emulation of the attributes of our Lord. Kindness can’t be legislated. Neither can civility or the understanding that we are not kings of the world, or even our own lives. Rudeness is honored in our society. The ruder the better. The more vulgar and violent our entertainment is, the more it’s celebrated. Yet, when things start going so wrong, we wring our hands and wonder why it’s happening. We abase and abuse each other. We harm each other verbally and physically. Our children lose their way. Depression is the norm… And still we wonder why.
What we’re seeing isn’t new, and Proverbs does instruct us in better ways to act that are in God’s design. Simple changes could leave our lives with so much less bad drama. When words and responses are well thought out, they can instruct instead of tear down. I agree with you on the value of reading them on a daily basis.
But to your question: There is already a perfect law that if followed would change the world: Love God, and love your neighbor as yourself. We are third in this trilogy and this is what I’d encourage people to remember. We can choose to be different. I can choose to be kind even when I don’t understand or disagree. I can be generous with praise and encouragement, and I can refuse to be drawn into this spiral of defeat.
What an insightful comment, Judy! The lack of creativity and imagination in our cultural word usage is startling. And the results, as you point out, are frightening.
For readers who don’t know Judy, she is the author of “A Light in the Dark: Reflections on Proverbs.”
I don’t have anything to add except “Amen!” and “Amen!”–one for Kay’s thoughtful post and one for Judy’s. Both are so insightful and bring us right back to the answer for the problem–following God’s commands in the Bible. And today I started off with Proverbs 17–for the 17th!
And “Amen!” for your comments, Barbara!
I read this blog and could not immediately answer, so I went away for a couple of days and when I came back people were already weighing in. As usual, Judy leaves me breathless with her ability to size up the situation and call it what it is. There was one line, however, that stopped me, because it was what I was thinking when I first read this blog. She said ” Kindness can’t be legislated.” It was one of the first things I thought–you can’t legislate morality any more than you can legislate common sense. I worked at a major health insurance company back when Florida’s motorcycle helmet law changed. I was one of 20 women (no men) in the office, and of the other 19 women, probably 16 of them were fiercely pro-choice while I was pro-life. They jumped me as soon as I came into the staff meeting to find my opinion of the new law (which basically said if you were over 18, had a motorcycle license and $10,000 worth of health insurance, you could ride helmet-free) because I rode a motorcycle. I just looked at them and said “My body, my choice.”
Very perceptive, as usual, Mel. Your comeback to your co-workers was a classic.
Although I agree you can’t legislate kindness, my (not so subtle) point was that reading God’s Word changes people. And I would be oh so happy if more folks would just give it a try.