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So many ways to talk

by Brian Radcliffe

Suitable for Whole School (Sec)


To encourage us to consider carefully the words used when we speak (SEAL theme: Self-awareness).

Preparation and materials

  • You will need a leader and three readers.
  • Have available the song 'Words' by the Bee Gees and the means to play it at the end of the assembly.


Leader: On 21 October 1915 - so 100 years ago - the very first transatlantic radio-telephone call was made in which people spoke to each other. It originated in Arlington in the USA and was received in Paris. People were amazed that speech could be transmitted across the vast expanse of the Atlantic Ocean. How different things are today.

Reader 1: I often talk to my cousins who live in Australia. The conversation sounds so clear, as if they're not very far away at all.

Reader 2: My grandma and grandad live in Spain. We use Skype or FaceTime to stay in touch. Not only can we talk but we can also see one another.

Reader 3: I love watching American sport. By satellite TV, I can get live commentary on all the games I want to follow.

Leader: Such are the advances in communications technology, there are now no barriers preventing us from chatting with people who matter to us, regardless of where in the world they actually are. In fact, it's even possible to have a conversation with astronauts on the International Space Station as they are orbiting Earth. 

Sometimes I wonder how many words are used in the world every day. There must be billions. We chat, we sing, we debate, we teach, we argue, we gossip, we discuss, we mock, we praise  . . .  there are infinite ways in which we use the power of our voices. So, maybe it's worth considering for a moment the words that we use.

Jesus made a number of important points about how we speak. 

First, he suggested that what we say is often an indication of the kind of person we are inside. He said that our mouths are full of what lies in our hearts.

I wonder what sort of character judgement people make when they hear the words you and I use? Do they sense kindness, empathy, support and encouragement or do they feel apprehensive because of the criticism, coldness and aggression they hear?

Second, Jesus warned that what we say apparently in private has a nasty habit of coming out in public. When the words are out, we've lost control of them. We don't have control over the reactions of those we're speaking to, those to whom they might pass on what we've said. We don't even know whether or not anyone happens to have overheard what we have said. 

Third, Jesus explained the Christian belief that, eventually, when our lives are over, we're going to have to take responsibility for everything we've said (and done for that matter). We are accountable for all our words, good and bad. They are not inconsequential. Every word has had some effect, whether positive or negative. This is an idea that's shared by some other religions as well.

Finally, to end on a positive note, Jesus assured his followers that when they ran out of words, when they were unable to respond to the awkward question, accusation, quandary or whatever other situation they found themselves in, then his Spirit would provide them with the words they were to say. Christians still believe this today.

Time for reflection

Do you know what you're going to say today? There may be some planned content. You may need to make:

- a speech for an assessment
- an excuse for some homework you've not done
- a complaint about something you've purchased
- an apology for an error.

Most of what we'll say today will be spontaneous. It will be in response to a question or someone's expressed opinion. It will be the result of some random thought we've had or an emotional response of affection, frustration or anger. We can't plan such words as these. So, how might we make the most beneficial use of them?

I'd suggest that, first, we listen carefully before attempting to say anything. Have we fully understood the question, the comment, the remark that's been made? Only then can our reply be relevant.

Second, I suggest that we engage our brains before opening our mouths. In other words, that we consider what we're about to say before actually putting it into words.

Third, I suggest that we limit the amount we say. Let's make every word count, being clear and precise so there can be no misunderstanding. If we're stuck for words, remember Jesus' promise, that his Spirit will provide us with what we might say.

Finally, I suggest that we do a debrief at the end of each day, checking there are no words we left unsaid, no words we regret, checking that our words had value and built up the lives of those in our families and community.

Dear Lord,
Thank you for words that help us convey what we feel and what we mean.
Remind us constantly of their power to both heal and hurt, to build up and damage.
May we stop for a moment and consider before we speak today.


‘Words’ by the Bee Gees

Publication date: October 2015   (Vol.17 No.10)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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