William Ewart Gladstone served four separate terms as prime minister of Britain between 1868 and 1894 (the most terms held by any British prime minister). He was a man of faith, and considered as one with very high principles. His efforts to work for world peace, sound economical budgets and political reform were tireless.
On one occasion, so the story is told, he made a very important speech in the House of Commons, in which he had to quote some key figures. Unfortunately however, the figures that his private secretary had given to him were quite wrong. Not surprisingly, the opposition benches had a field day and very publicly humiliated Gladstone there in the House that day.
In the cut and thrust of political life, Gladstone might well have felt justified in giving his private secretary a good ticking off for putting him into such a difficult situation. But he didn’t. Instead, that night Gladstone sent him a very gracious and kindly letter saying that he shouldn’t worry. “We all make mistakes”, he wrote, “and as far as I am concerned, the matter is closed. It will never be mentioned again.” Can you imagine how the young private secretary felt at being so graciously forgiven?
Of course, we do all make mistakes and there is a need to be called to account at times. But some, including many of the wonderful people that we work with, have experienced no end of unjust criticism, put downs and harsh words in their lives and rarely, if ever, have received praise or encouragement, or words of forgiveness. Words have great power. Power to break people down, and to destroy any sense of self-esteem.
But equally, words have power to encourage, to motivate, to convey forgiveness, to demonstrate compassion and kindness. Which is why it is so important for us to look for every opportunity to speak kind words, gracious words, into people's lives. Words that build people up and help to restore them . . . . that help them along the road to becoming the best that they can be.
As we embark on a new year, may we resolve to bring words of healing to whoever we can, whenever we can (even at those times when they have made mistakes or we feel they have wronged us in some way). I think maybe Gladstone might have said, "Hear, Hear" to that.