“… words as hard as cannon balls”

“The Spoken Word” from Temple Square, presented over KSL and the Columbia Broadcasting System September 12, 1971. © 1971 by Richard L. Evans.

Sir Walter Scott suggested a subject in a well-phrased couplet:

“Thoughts from the tongue that slowly part,
Glance quick as lightening through the heart.” 1

Whether slowly or quickly, what comes from the tongue ought to be thought through before being let loose. “Be careful of your thoughts,” said one observer. “They may break into words at any time.” People often hurt both themselves and others with unwise words, and then they say they didn’t think what they were saying, or didn’t mean what they said. But as someone has expressed it: “The person who says just what he thinks should think.” The processes of thought are difficult to follow or define, but speaking or acting before we have taken time to think, often gets us into trouble. Words are among our greatest tools and among our most dangerous weapons. We can endear ourselves to others or destroy friendship; we can encourage and comfort, or cause heartaches and do cruel damage—with words. It would be terrible not to be able to communicate. But it is also terrible to talk without discretion, without truth or kindness or consideration. It would be terrible if all our talk were negative, sarcastic, critical. But when we encourage others, when we teach truth, when we bring comfort, when we help men to be better, words are wonderful. We are in a sense as much responsible for what we do to others with our words as we could be with weapons. In a sense, you can hit a man with words—“words as hard as cannon balls” 2 as Emerson said it. In any case, words somehow come from our thoughts, and saying that we didn’t think doesn’t help much after the damage is done. Falsehoods spread, rumors fly, hearts are hurt, all with unwise words. “The person who says just what he thinks, should think.” “Be careful of your thoughts. They may break into words at any time.”

Notes

  •   1.

    Sir Walter Scott, Rokeby, Canto i, st. 19.

  •   2.

    Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self Reliance.