Do you ever feel tongue tied? Lately I’ve found it hard to make my thoughts coherent or feel confident in expressing them, especially when I speak in Khmer. I often become quite shy and introverted, not knowing what to say next, at times avoiding situations where I will be expected to carry on a deeper kind of conversation. A lot of this has to do with not having the fluency and vocabulary to express myself as I would like or to fully understand what is said to me. I am concerned that I will say something stupid or offensive because I’m not competent enough to speak sensitively in the language. I feel in some ways my personality changes in this other language and I can’t quite be myself. I guess it’s like that for others when they are speaking in a language not easy for them. It makes me wonder how I can really know people when they are relating to me in English if it is not their first or most comfortable language. How can I know their real self?
When I write in English, even though I feel confident in the language, I also hesitate out of fear of what others may think. I am concerned that I will hurt or offend or fear that I will be misinterpreted.
Speaking or writing in a public way takes courage. There is real power in having a good command of a language in order to express and exchange ideas clearly. Teaching language, literacy, writing and confident communication to people opens up the world to them and them to the world. This is real empowerment.
I have a Khmer friend who cannot speak. She lost her speech after sustaining neurological damage in a traffic accident. It has also affected her arms. She knows three languages but can only express herself by typing on a computer with one finger or texting on a mobile phone. Although very intelligent, this accident has dramatically impacted her sense of self, her mental health and her confidence to meet people and express her ideas. My prayer is that she will grow in courage to engage more with the world that is now available to her through technology both for her benefit and also for the benefit of those who can learn from her. I want to see her empowered to find her voice.
I wonder how we can more effectively use what skill we do have in language and communication to promote deeper thinking, greater understanding and more generous living.
At my sister in law’s funeral she was quoted as saying ‘great words are great deeds’. She had a PHD in English literature and loved words.
We are often told that deeds speak louder than words but in my life words have been profoundly helpful. Words have conveyed the love and the message and the ideas that have brought me meaning, comfort and inspiration for life.
There is certainly a time for living out the words and simply being in a silent way, a time for presence. A time when no words are adequate or when the pain is too great to articulate. Words do have their limitations. We can only speak of what we understand and know. We speak in response to the words of others. Listening too is a great power. I have found that when we ask powerful questions we can draw out the ideas of others and empower them with their own words. Communication, the speaking and the listening, can be a most profound act of love.
One of the most beautiful passages in the Bible proclaims that ‘The Word became flesh and dwelt among us’ (John 1:14). Jesus is the Word. God created though His Word. God said let there be and there was. Words have incredible power and Jesus shows us in his embodiment of the Word that God longs for communication with us.
May God empower us, through His Spirit, to listen and receive. May He also release our tied up tongues and fill us with the courage to speak words of life and love.