The Power of Language
© 1999 Michele Toomey, PhD

Words can inform our mind, caress and comfort our feelings, excite and thrill our spirit, or warm and kindle the flame of our hearts. They can also slap our face, punch us in the stomach, rattle our nerves, kill our desire, or destroy our self-confidence. Of course this is metaphorical, but these metaphors capture in words our physical reactions to what is said, and that is the power of language. It can emotionally move and affect us as powerfully as physical actions. Unfortunately, however, we have yet to recognize and legitimize this great power in the way we should, and we are left to deal with language in whatever way we have learned and adopted.

Bullies usually escape punishment if they abuse verbally and do not leave physical bruises and broken bones to prove the presence of abuse. Intimate conversations are not as valued as sexual intimacy, and dramatic or traumatic moments often leave us speechless.

Liberation psychology teaches us how to use and appreciate the power of language with integrity. Integrity is the key word, because without it, the power of language is abused. Integrity, or honesty, in self-expression, eliminates deception, manipulation, judgmental accusations, abusive tongue lashings, and lying. Our orientation toward this communication system, therefore, must be to preserve its integrity by being respectful and honest with the information that gets transmitted through it with the intention of understanding it and having intimacy with it.

The exchange of information should not be geared toward hostility and conquest. Thoughts aren't supposed to conquer feelings, feelings are not the enemies of thoughts. Pretense is not to replace truth even when we don't like it, and discovery is for understanding not for blame. By using the power of language to inform so that we will be understood and known, rather than to establish superiority or dominance, intimacy becomes the goal of the exchange. Language used for intimacy becomes the goal of the exchange. Language used for understanding provides the vehicle for preserving the communication system's integrity. Language used for abuse violates the integrity of the system and the person, and not only isn't the point, it should not be allowed.

To give the power of language its rightful place we should teach the power of articulate speech that captures the intensity of our feelings, without using them as weapons, and we should not tolerate the abuse of this power that violates us and our system.

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