One of the tenets of Christianity which I revere (while being incapable of joining in, as it were) is the very Christmas concept of the Word becoming flesh through the Incarnation. The idea that God became Jesus Christ in flesh is, of course, the central belief of Christians; but it might also tell us something about other words (for all our words must come from God, if we believe in Him). If God gave us language, there would be a sort of moral duty on the people who use words (that is, us).
Words anyway fascinate me. What are they? Hieroglyphs 'containing' a meaning, separate to the physical 'thing' of the word itself? Historically-squished phoneticisms, carrying the sounds used originally to denote that 'thing'? Well. I'm neither religious nor a linguist (definitely what I would urge my 16 year old self to study were I ever to write one of those letters) but on Christmas Eve I think there's something worth considering about words that might unite both Christians and their non-believing friends.
It is the idea that words are real things, with power, in the Universe (one of my central dogmas). Whether you derive your moral sense from the Divine, or whether (like me) you fumble together a way to live based on an urge to love, you are responsible for the selection of the words which you speak, or write; and you are responsible too for the impact they have on your audience. Not everyone will agree with my subordinate clause, there, because (and I understand this) if we are to have freedom of speech we must have freedom to cause offence. I don't suggest banning words. I simply suggest that words cannot be deployed without any recognition that they have the power to wound. If you do wound, you carry the responsiblity for the act.
The expansion of the anonymous blogosphere may have lost us this truth, a little. Yesterday Tom Harris, the Labour MP with a great blog, closed down comments on an entry he had written about awarding Veterans' Awards to some of his constituents, because he couldn't bear to read the inchoate anger of some of his anonymous commenters. Something about the anonymity of a website has released a demon among some people - I think this is incontrovertible - which is a desire (which I do not understand) to choose words with as malicious an intent as possible.
One of my favourite writers, Alisdair Gray, is famous for saying Work as if you live in the early days of a better nation. I think the power is in the as if. You may not live in the early days of a better nation, but it will be better for you, for your neighbour, if you work as though you do.
Something similar is available about words, I think. Choose your words as if you say them to the face of one person, someone who will remember your words for the rest of their life. In the end, all our failures are failures of love (my other dogma). Choose the words with love.
Writing here is one of the best things that has ever happened to me, and I don't know what I ever did to be so lucky. Thank you for reading, thank you for all the comments, and I hope you have a wonderful Christmas and a very happy new year.