In 1918 one of the most devastating epidemics in history broke out; the Spanish Flu. In just two years the virus would claim a stunning 30 million lives. Believed to have been brought to the United States through soldiers returning from World War I, the flu would claim over half a million victims in America. No cure was ever found; the rest of the world’s population just seemed to carry an innate immunity that sent the virus into remission.
It is believed that the epidemic spread more rapidly due to ignorance. In fact many people took very few precautions. For instance, a number wore simple masks and nothing further, continuing on with their lives with far more interest in the World Series and Babe Ruth than in being concerned about the deadly outbreak.
It seems that it is when we ignore the silent killers that they are most deadly. Two thousand years ago Paul of Tarsus shared, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Ephesians 4:29).
Counselor Neil Anderson said that if we memorize and live by these words half our problems would disappear overnight.
Found in Paul’s statement is one of the strongest forces ever known, the power of the tongue to build up or destroy. In fact, James the Just said that no one can tame the tongue without divine help, and the one who gains control of it “is a perfect man” (James 3:2).
Humorously, author Chuck Swindoll shares the following epitaph found on a tombstone in England:
Beneath this stone,
a lump of clay,
Lies Arabella Young,
Who, on the twenty-fourth of May,
Began to hold her tongue.
How important it is to control this force before it is too late. Indeed, like with the Spanish Flu, everyone has been impacted by the power of the tongue, either for good or bad. Hurtful words are some of the most destructive elements on earth, causing unseen damage and death in heart after heart, poisoning the insides and leaving scars for untold years to come.
In the same way words can be used to build others up in their time of need, lifting someone’s spirit and elevating them by the strength of love. Yet rather than just some pop psychology, let me give a specific meaning and action plan to follow when it comes to curtailing the tongue and choosing instead to use it to bring healing.
It has been said that the most important conversations that we have are with ourselves. The unspoken language patterns that we use when talking to ourselves help to drive our emotions. In the same way we can impact other people’s emotional response by the words we use.
Once we label an experience we give it meaning, so it is imperative to carefully choose the descriptive terms that we use. The particular words that we choose have tremendous driving power. An example I like to use is found in romantic relationships where using the words “never” and “always” can be especially damaging, giving a sense of finality or the inability to make a change.
So let me share a simple but memorable equation that anyone can use that can vastly improve their communication, eliminating the destructive force of the tongue and instead unleashing its power to build others up. It is a common leadership principle, and the equation to remember is simply “win-win.”
Every decision leads to one of two outcomes, either constructive or destructive. Dr. Paul Dobransky notes that all behaviors are either win-win or win-lose. For some people to “win” they believe they must make others “lose” by criticizing them or tearing them down with their words. Healthy relationships are built on two people seeking the best for one other, i.e. a win-win relationship.
If a conversation or relationship or an interaction will have a win-lose outcome, then simply avoid it. Only engage in win-win relationships and discussion, and only be a person of win-win character. Even the most difficult talks that we must have can be constructed in a way that leaves a win-win outcome.
So from now on, before engaging in a relationship or dialogue or interaction, simply ask, “Is this a win-win situation?” If it is not or it can’t be made into one, then make the decision to walk away.
Follow this principle and I promise you that you will be spared much pain and instead find that you are becoming a vessel for building others up and taking their lives to a new level of growth and experience. There really is nothing more powerful you can do.