The Words You Use, They Matter

A few years back I was put in the uncomfortable position of explaining the Christian term “spiritual warfare” to a rabbi. I was explaining the training program I was leading at the time (the word was embedded in the title) when he kindly asked me to clarify. Was this some kind of warfare tactic, where we pray about which target to attack? He had mistaken the term as some kind of flesh and blood holy war thing.

Funny how easy it is to forget how the words we use sound to an outsider of our particular industry, organization, country, religion. That nasty curse of knowledge at work again. It gets worse when those “insider” terms start getting used in our communication to the uninitiated. That might even be how real wars (or at least the propaganda that fuels them) get started.

Full of grace and sincerity, the rabbi pointed out that the terms we use really are important.

Though I successfully explained how “spiritual warfare” is more of a love thing than a hate thing, I left wishing we had a better word to explain the concept.

On the flip side, I realized the importance of asking clarifying questions when I don’t understand a term. The person I’m listening to might not realize what their words sound like to me. One clarifying question could clear up a lot of misunderstanding.

The words we use, they matter.

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