Caring for words is a moral issue

Caring for language is a moral issue. Caring for one another is not entirely separable from caring for words. Words are entrusted to us as equipment for our life together, to help us survive, guide, and nourish one another. We need to take the metaphor of nourishment seriously in choosing what we “feed on” in our hearts, and in seeking to make our conversation with each other life-giving. A large, almost sacramental sense of the import and efficacy of words can be found in early English usage, where conversation appears to have been a term that included and implied much more than it does now: to converse was to foster community, to commune with, to dwell in a place with others. Conversation was understood to be a life-sustaining practice, a blessing, and a craft to be cultivated for the common good. A quaint poem by Edward Taylor offers some sense of this larger notion of conversation: developing the image of the self as God’s “spinning wheel,” Taylor prays, “and make my Soule thy holy Spoole to bee. My conversation make to be thy Reele.” The business of gently guiding rough strands pulled from the gathered wool into grooves where they may become fine thread suggests a rich idea of conversation as right, skillful, careful, economical use of what God and nature have provided for our use and protection. 

To call upon another analogy, if language is to retain its power to nourish and sustain our common life, we have to care for it in something life the way good farmers care for the life of the soil, knowing nothing worth eating can be grown in soil that has been used up, overfertilized, or exposed to too many toxic chemicals. The comparison, I believe, is pertinent, timely, and precise – and urgent. 

From “Caring for Words In A Culture of Lies” by Marilyn McEntyre – Eerdmans Publishing