Language creates culture.
At church, something we’ve often talked about as leaders is how the way we talk and the things we talk about frame the culture and environment of our church. In fact, early one when we were relaunching our church we established a lexicon of sorts. It’s a list of words and their definitions that we felt embodied the mission and vision of who we are as a church and where we believe the Lord is taking us. So, our lexicon had words like “presence” and “servant” and “influence” and “empowerment.” Because our mission is that we want to Encounter God, Empower People, and Engage the World. Our vision is: His presence changes everything. So we created a breakdown of words that we felt, as leaders, embodied that mission/vision. These would be “buzz words” of sorts for our leaders to use on a regular basis in order to cultivate that within our faith community.
The thing that I’ve been pondering recently is how this idea is not just for the church. It’s not just for businesses and organizations. It’s for people too. And I think that the reason so many people abuse their words is because they don’t understand thatlanguage creates culture.
The things that I talk about and the words that I choose will influence who you think that I am more than anything else. Because you, as readers from all over the world, don’t see my everyday actions or my personality, your only frame of reference for what kind of person I am is the things I say and the way that I say them.
This past month spent preparing Love and the Sea and Everything in Between for publishing and writing the first draft of Every Bright and Broken Thing has taught me how important my words are and how my words frame the stories I write. I was talking with one of my writer friends, Olivia Bennett (author of A Cactus in the Valley) when I was about halfway finished with the first draft of EBABT. I was expressing how I’d reached that point in the story where I was genuinely afraid that I had run out of inspiration for writing. That, after finally being done with LATSAEIB, every other story I write will be nothing but recycled characters and plots and themes. She reminded me that “it’s the same person writing [EBABT], so it will be similar.” She probably didn’t realize this, but that actually encouraged me a great deal and is pretty much what got me down this road of thinking. As I thought about what she said, I realize that there will be similarities between all my stories because all of my stories are going to express the things that I value, the things that are important to me, the things that I am wholly about. I write stories about broken people walking through broken situations because I want to show my readers that healing is possible. Love is possible. Faith is possible. The balance and harmony of pain and promise. So, because this is my heart and because this is the language that has framed my entire life, it has to be reflected in the things that I say and write.
Language creates culture.
I’ve had a few toxic friends in my life who would often display the inability to hold their tongue. They didn’t understand the Biblical concept that “the power of life and death are in the tongue.”(Proverbs 18:21) So they would often say whatever they wanted with no care for the consequences. If their words hurt me, it was my problem and not theirs. And, admittedly, I’m often guilty of the same crime. If we’re all honest, every one of us has let our tongues loose with no thought for the consequences.
But, see, if we begin to understand that the very power of life and death rests inside the words that we speak, then perhaps we could begin to cultivate cultures around us that don’t reflect the division, contempt, bitterness, and hate that we see so often. Perhaps, using our words to frame ideas of healing, faith, unity, family, freedom, grace, truth, and passion, we could create cultures and environments around us that reflect those ideals. What if the language of our lives was words of peace, love, grace, patience, hope, life, faith, generosity, freedom, understanding, compassion, truth, honesty, and self-control?
Perhaps, by writing stories about broken people stumbling their way to healing, I could help to create a culture of readers who’ve regained a sense of hope in dark places, who’ve rediscovered their faith all over again, or who’ve come to understand the deep realities of love that surpasses human capabilities. Perhaps, by hanging out with friends and talking about things like love, joy, and peace we could create a community of people who lift us higher and encourage us to be better rather than sitting around being negative and cynical all of the time. Perhaps, by sharing our stories of pain and all the ways that God has healed us or set us free, then we could create a culture of people who more and more each day point those around them toward healing.
Language creates culture.
So what words are you speaking? Are they words of life? If every word you ever spoke or wrote were written in one giant book for others to read, what kind of person would they think you were? I think it’s time to renew our understanding of the power that we carry with us every day. After all, “with great power comes great responsibility.”