Among all classical literature, the Book of James in the Bible has the lengthiest discussion on the power of our tongue which is most convincing and illuminating. Like the mouth of wild animals, it fully reflects their fierceness. If we see our tongue as an admiral, it is a small but critical part of a giant craft that navigates across the Atlantic. Most people will find the little spark setting a forest on fire the most powerful metaphor of our tongue, as it highlights its destructive power when it is misused.
Another example of the damaging power of the tongue can also be seen in John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. The character Talkative was totally disparaged by his fellow pilgrims Christian and Faithful. Christian spurned him for valuing spiritual words over religious deeds.
Actually, our tongue is innocent as it is just a tool to express what is in our hearts. Though our tongue can tell lies and spread gossip, it can also say grace and instill hope. I too have awkward experiences in abusive use of the tongue. Once when I was teasingly belittling someone, that person appeared from out of nowhere. I really need to be vigilant with my tongue. Once the words are out, there is no way to take them back. Yet, my tongue is still not the culprit; my heart is the one instead.
I have often heard my kids repeating phrases that I have spoken. Sometimes it is funny, but other times it can be embarrassing. It is time to reflect on the use of our tongues. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians reminds us that we should speak only what is “helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Ephesians 4:29). The Lord understands that we are all sinners; while there is no complete cure for the problem of our heart, we should put our tongue in check. “We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check” (James 3:2).
Have you ever felt overjoyed with a simple “Thank you”? Those words mean so much to us because, in the hectic demands of our busy days, we rarely hear encouraging words. In the Hollywood film Saving Mr. Banks, there is a very touching conversation between Walt Disney and L.B. Pamela, the writer of Mary Poppins. Disney invites Pamela to forget her sadness and persuades her to use her gifts in expression. He says, “We are storytellers, and we are using our stories to change the world. We can share happy stories to make the world a happier place; we can also share sad stories to make people feel down. It’s our choice.”
Similarly, it is also our choice to use our tongue to bless or to curse others. Disney’s words have inspired me. Many secondary schools provide various kinds of training to students on debate, drama performance, and public speech. It is my honor to serve in a school where all such kinds of training aim at making the world a happier place.
Kenneth H. Ng (Henri-head)