The power of the tongue

Barney Zwartz writes on how Adem Somyurek's sacking highlights the importance of our words - something explored in the Bible's book of James.

In all the screeds written about the ugly shenanigans and branch-stacking in the Victorian Labor Party that emerged this week, few seem to have thought much about the ostensible reason factional leader Adem Somyurek was sacked.

It was not for branch-stacking or Somyurek’s boasting about his power or his contempt for his colleagues. It was the vile and demeaning language with which he expressed all this. I’m not going to repeat any, but it’s there in salacious detail in the news reports.

It’s implied that if he had expressed these views in moderate terms without the profanities he might have survived, though I should not think anyone believes that’s true. But it’s a reminder of the vital importance of what we say.

Rarely has this been expressed more forcefully than in the New Testament letter of James. “The tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark,” James writes.

“The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body … All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.”

Conversely, “anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check”. I never met such a person, least of all me. But if the tongue is one of the chief ways we expose the ugliness inside us, it also expresses beauty, companionship, compassion, worship and love.