Belfast Telegraph

Alf McCreary: Why leaders must stop using words as weapons and start using them to heal

By Alf McCreary

What a crazy world we live in. Last week thousands of Ulstermen and women paraded with orange sashes to commemorate the victory of a long-dead native Dutch King who won a battle in Ireland in 1690 to help secure the Protestant throne for England.

He fought against his Roman Catholic father-in-law, and in doing so he had the backing of the Pope.

How crazy is that? Perhaps not as crazy as the sight of UK Parliamentarians tearing themselves apart over the future of Europe today.

I doubt if anyone knows the outcome, but that does not stop the bitter wrangling in Westminster, and the deeply divisive discourse around the UK. This now is as bitter as some of the worst exchanges over here in the Seventies and Eighties.

The arguments about Brexit now waft over me like a fog and leave little impression.

The torrent of words about this and other current news, including the attempts by the incomprehensible President Trump and other politicians to talk themselves out of difficulties, reminds me of a recent editorial in the Church of Ireland Gazette.

It complimented Prince Charles who uttered the following words at a civic event in Cork on June 14.

"The partnership between our two countries could hardly be of greater importance. Today we are not just neighbours, but old friends who tragically have travelled a troubled road, along which many wrongs have been done."

In very few words he summarised expertly the tragedy of Anglo-Irish history. The Gazette rightly emphasised the power of well-chosen words that can bring healing.

However, it also noted that words can be used in an argument where winning or losing can be everything.

They can also be used as barbed weapons to wound others, as we saw in recent religious exchanges.

Words can also be used to obscure truth, rather than reveal it. The Gazette emphasised strongly that "In a world of 'spin', cleverly used words can have extraordinary power".

Today we have too many words from too many people with their own agenda, and it is almost impossible for ordinary people to understand what is going on.

Many people fiercely criticise Mrs May, but is there anyone else who could do a better job, given the depressing and shocking infantile behaviour of the Tory Party.?

Back home the Orange Order sends out mixed signals. On the one hand they welcome the first gay Taoiseach to Belfast, then they respond coldly to an attempt by the Sinn Fein leader to get an invitation to an Orange parade.

So what's really going on? The Orangemen cannot have it both ways. If they truly believe in change they can't duck their duty of engaging with others to put their views strongly. What are they afraid of?

The same applies to Sinn Fein. Are they sincere, or are they trying to use the Orange Order merely as a convenient pawn in their relentless long-term aim of a united Ireland.

So it goes on. There is a great need for plain speaking but that is not what we are getting, and democracy is the poorer for it.

The Apostle James had it right when he wrote in his New Testament Epistle "though the tongue is a small part of the body, yet it can boast of great achievements. A huge forest can be set on fire by a little flame".

Sadly, it seems today that words are used too much as a weapon and as a means of obscuring the truth. This is why politicians and many others are held in such low regard.

We, who elect them, are part of the problem as well. How would you and I feel if every word we said was publicised, and came back to haunt us? That should be enough to make us keep our mouth shut for a very long time.

The Church of Ireland concluded its thoughtful editorial with a heartfelt plea: "We desperately need leaders who will honestly use words to heal and create possibilities even in the most difficult of times."

If only that would take place, but don't hold your breath. Given the current 'spin' and the ugly political mood here and in the rest of the UK, It won't happen any time soon.

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