If one had not been paying attention to language and leadership before, one cannot miss it in this election cycle. For example we hear a lot of wrangling over who is willing to use the word “radical” to describe Islam and who is not. Everyone seems to be talking about this and other kinds of words that are being used to communicate the vision of the potential presidents. Many are profoundly disappointed about some of the words being used. They seem less than inspiring.
As is known, one of the major functions of leadership, especially in a democracy, where one cannot just offer commands, is to inspire people with words. But how much are we hearing positive inspiration in the contemporary cycle? And how much are our leaders willing to learn and transform their words. We are told that one of ancient Greece’s greatest and most persuasive orators was Demosthenes whose first public speech was so feebly delivered and tortuous that his audience laughed him out of the Greek assembly. However as he walked home disheartened and reconciled in his inability to speak, an actor named Satyrus caught up with him and gave him a lesson in how to deliver a speech. Demosthenes then made himself an underground study where he stayed for weeks at a time practicing his oratory away from the distractions of the world. He cured a stammer by speaking with pebbles in his mouth and his shortness of breath by shouting out poetry while running uphill. With these efforts, he eventually acquired the ability to hold an Athenian audience spellbound. His was, perhaps, an extreme pathway to effective speaking. I myself have had my own way of practicing to speak in public, because I understood it well that my language would affect the way in which people receive me.
My interest, of course, is not just about the use of persuasive or inspiring speech by leaders, but to focus on the kinds of words that each of use in our communication to one another. How dignified are we speaking to each other? Are we demeaning each other by our words? Are we abusing each other? What are we saying about each other? Are we maligning each other? As has been noted, many of the words that are coming forth from the lips of many leaders in our culture today are angry, hateful, malevolent, words. Do we need to take the lead of these leaders or find a better way?
As a Bible believing leader I think of what is said about the use of my words:
Colossians 4:6 “Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man. (KJV)
Mark 9:50 Salt is good: but if the salt have lost his saltness, wherewith will ye season it? Have salt in yourselves.” (KJV)
Ephesians 4:29 “Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers.” (NKJV).
If I were preaching a sermon here I would remind my audience that what follows the latter text is another that talks about grieving the Holy Spirit. It is taking note that when we use unkind words, we bring grief to the Holy Spirit and loose our salvation. In effect, in all our communication let us watch our words.