“Speak no Evil” – Let’s use our Language to Create
by Rev. Dr. Leslie Ann King of First Presbyterian Church, Waco
I own a pair of “wise monkey” bookends. As you remember, the wise monkeys are depicted as hearing no evil (hands over ears); seeing no evil (hands over eyes); speaking no evil (hands cupped over mouth). The bookends are constant reminders to me about the need to manage my perception and speech. Particularly, the bookends remind me of the need to manage my perception when I perceive evil. I need to manage the way I speak about evil.
The word evil needs a specific definition. For the sake of Act Locally Waco conversation, I define evil as those things that injure life, given by God, and those things that injure an individual’s standing within society. Evil may describe the actions of people or the complexity of a circumstance. Evil is not something that God uses to tempt us, rather evil is something that God seeks to lead us away from.
When Ashley asked me to write this article it was in response to my participation in planning meeting for the Greater Waco Community Education Alliance Summit. In that meeting, I suggested that it matters how we talk about our Waco school district and those surrounding districts that we care so much about. Those gathered for the meeting seemed to agree that it was exhausting to continually lament the injurious circumstances and the lack of social standing among our students and their families. I imagined the three wise monkeys taking their place in the middle of our meeting.
Of course, I am not arguing that we should ignore – not see and hear – what is injurious and vulnerable. I am not suggesting that if we do not perceive evil, there will simply be no evil about which to speak. In fact, I do not believe the three wise monkeys are wise because of what they refrain from doing. Rather, I imagine the three wise monkeys as being in a state of preparation. They are in a holding position. Considering all they have perceived, they are readying themselves through meditation and prayer to consider what they will say. They invite us to a similar posture: holding on to what we have seen and heard to think about what we will say.
Will we fill this Reality TV world with more mindless chatter and idle gossip about evil? Or will we consider it all and speak the things that need to come into being? We can speak provocatively in the image of our Creator who, as you remember from Genesis, spoke in order to create. Enlightened by all we have perceived, we can use our speech as a strategy for creation.
Perhaps if we, like the monkeys, take the time to consider what we will say, our speech will be infused with Prescriptive Language rather than Lamenting Language. Here are some examples of how that might sound:
- Lamenting Language of our teachers – “Don’t you kids want to go to college and have a better life? You have to study and do this work to get that done!”
- Prescriptive Language of our teachers – “Look at what amazing and irreplaceable people you are. I know school is hard but you will learn and discover here in ways that no one else can. What will you do?”
- Lamenting Language of our citizens – “Our district does not have good and ready children within it.”
- Prescriptive Language of our citizens– “Some of the most important challenges of life, I was not ready for. These children need my support to rise to their challenges.”
- Lamenting Language of our children – “I can’t do this. There is no point in trying.”
- Prescriptive Language of our children – “If I try, I can do part of what I need to do to succeed.”
The three wise monkeys are not wise because of what they do NOT do. They are wise because of the holding position they invite us to assume while we distill the good word to form in our mind and be released by our tongue. It is the beginning of wisdom.
This week’s Act Locally Waco blog post is by Rev. Dr. Leslie Ann King of First Presbyterian Church, Waco. Would you like to write for the blog? If so, please email Ashleyt@actlocallywaco.org. We would love to hear your thoughts on making Waco a great place to live for every person of every level of income.