REFLECTION: Taming the tongue PDF Print E-mail
Monday, 20 October 2014 11:46



It is in the Letter of St. James that we are told about taming our tongue. It’s just a small part of our body, and yet its effect, good or bad, is great. “The tongue is indeed a little member and boasts great things. Behold how small a fire kindles a great wood,” (3,5) it says.

We’re warned that taming it is indeed so difficult that when we manage to dominate it and direct it properly, we can be described as having reached our perfection.

And the simple reason for that, to my mind, is that the tongue is the first to express to the outside world what truly is the state of our soul. It practically can reveal our true identity.

It’s not our appearance that marks our identity. And our works come only later to show who we really are and what we are capable of. It’s the tongue that first shows where our mind and heart tilt in an abiding way. And so it can also draw immediate reaction from everyone.

More than that, our tongue, and the word that comes through it. is supposed to reflect the whole origin of word and the communication that is essential in our life of relations.

We need to understand that just like the Word of God who is the son of God, and since we are image and likeness of God, our word should somehow be the very image of who we truly are—that is, as image and likeness of God, children of his. Our word truly plays a primordial role in our life.

That’s why we have to be extra careful with our word, first the spoken one and more so with the written one. We just could not treat it lightly, assuming a casual attitude toward it. Our word can either make or break us.

And being careful with our word is not just a matter of trying not to hurt anyone according to our own estimation of what may hurt. It should not be formed simply at the instance of our instincts, feelings, pure reason, or some ideology.

Being careful with our word is a matter of truly uniting ourselves with God who is all at once the truth, goodness, love, mercy, justice, etc. We just cannot feel spontaneous and ‘natural’ about it, depriving it of the light of faith, the impulse of hope, the warmth of charity that make us speak with God at all times.

We have to be most wary of the tendency, so current and widespread these days, to simply speak on our own, currying our word with some rhetorical devices, clever catch phrases, anecdotal sparklers, etc.,  to make it attractive, but failing to ground them on their true source of what is true, good, beautiful.

Also, we have to consider the station or office we hold. While everyone has to be careful with his word, it’s also understandable that those who hold high positions in life should be most careful with his speech and writing.

Obviously, the same statement could have varying import and effects if spoken or written by a farmer, a clerk, public official or a priest, bishop, and especially a pope. The higher one’s position is, the more careful he ought to be with his word. He has to be wary of making off-the-cuff comments that often fail to consider many things.

Obviously, this requires a lot of training and discipline. We just hope that right in the family and the school, the basic institutions where we start to develop and grow toward maturity, we can already have the atmosphere conducive to using our tongue and word properly.

At all costs, we have to avoid gossiping, backbiting, idle talk, ironies, sarcasm, negative and bitter comments. On the contrary, we have to foster positive, encouraging comments, statements that are well thought-out, properly researched and weighed.

We should be quick to speak in a way that reflects understanding, compassion, fairness, mercy. We should learn how to speak with prudence and discretion, knowing when to speak and when not, how to say things, paying attention to the tone of our voice.

These considerations, contrary to what some people sometimes suspect, do not make us unrealistic. They are not meant to hinder our candidness. Our candidness should not be at the instance of our instincts alone. It should come as a result of a disciplines training in charitable speaking.

Let us promote this culture of taming our tongue and of speaking and writing well. Let’s hope that in our public exchanges, marked improvement in this area can be achieved!