by Jessica Kuzmier

     Language as a means of communication is one of the things that sets mankind apart from other animals. Although it certainly can be said that other animals do have their own language, the language of human beings has been the impetus to inspire much of what we know as culture and civilization.
     Yet its importance seems to easily be dulled in the conscience of people. Very often, the excuse "it was only words" is used to deflect the responsibility of the speaker from the impact of what he has said. "It didn't mean anything" somehow implies that the words were gibberish that should be promptly ignored. Logically, this makes little sense. Unless a person comes up to you and says something unintelligible to the effect of "xyfioewnva" or other nonsense, it is to be presumed that what was said was intended to convey some message or another. Hence, the words meant something, because language is intended to communicate.
     In fact, it could be argued that most violence begins in some way with words, whether it is a racial epithet that begins a bar fight, a torrent of verbal abuse that escalates to domestic violence, or a threat of war by one government to another. Words are used by governments during war. For example, in Operation Iraqi Freedom, both sides used propaganda to convey their verbal indoctrination: the American military blaring their message of liberation to the Iraqi people, and the administration of Saddam Hussein telling media that they were winning. Protesters were criticized for nonviolent demonstrations once the war began because of the fear that their dissent would be broadcasted as a weapon of rhetoric to coalition POWs by Iraqi forces. One of the most famous examples of using words as a weapon was during WWII, when Hitler used propaganda to dull the German people's consciences so he could carry out his extermination of Jews and other groups he found undesirable without opposition.
     Ignoring the weight of words does nothing to lessen their impact. Once said, they are never retrieved, and arguably, the some of the hardest damage to erase. Vandalized stores can be rebuilt, many physical injuries can heal, but the aftermath of violent speech can reverberate for years. One can take steps to counter the indoctrination of language, but its effect is the hardest to forget. Many victims of domestic violence say the verbal abuse was more damaging to them than the physical violence, perhaps it because is intended to injure the mind and spirit, rather than the body. Injuring someone's soul, the essence of who they are, seems to have much more permanent scarring than bruises.
     Language is the messenger from spirit to spirit. Language is the means in which we can cross the invisible boundaries from one person to another. No language is truly neutral, though it may be easy to delude oneself into thinking so to shirk responsibility in using it. If language can be used as a messenger of war, it can be used as a messenger of peace. The impact of words can be used as to lift spirits, and to elevate another to realize his highest being and potential. For this to be done, one has to want others to achieve goodness. In the end, the quality of language can only be as good as the heart of the speaker. Social masks cannot prevent one's motives from showing themselves in the long run. The language used, if listened to, mirrors the heart. This is what the Bible writer James meant that the tongue is a little instrument that causes great fires and defiles the whole body (James 3:5-10).
     If one desires peace, he must speak peacefully. An antiwar demonstrator who speaks hatefully of the Bush administration may hurt his cause more than help it. Instead of advancing peace, his words of venom are usually used against him, proving how "uninformed" those peace activists are. Words are the ultimate sower: they predicate what one reaps just by their utterance. Therefore, if peaceful speech is the first external step towards peace, and speech is only a reflection of what is inside a person's heart, the first step towards peace is correcting internal motives. It does no good to hate one's enemy and then speak of peace and love. Perhaps this was one reason Jesus commanded his disciples to love their enemy (Matt 5:44). He knew that his gospel would never be able to reach the ends of the earth if his disciples were hiding hatred in their hearts. Gandhi also stressed the importance of correcting the heart before participating in nonviolent resistance. To him, if you harbored violence in your soul, you may as well act on it and not pretend otherwise. To truly express nonviolent resistance, one had to let go of all hatred, or else his words and actions would belie this aggression.
     Words are the bridge that lets us travel to one another's souls. Their power is not to be taken for granted. The true beginning of any dialogue, treaty, or negotiation begins with realizing the impact of one's words. Then and only then can any headway be made.

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