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A President Calls For Words That Heal, Not Hurt

Below are excerpts from remarks made by President Clinton Feb. 2 at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington.

WE have heard a lot of words today of great power. There is very little I can add to them. But let me say that, in this age, which the Speaker of the House is always reminding us is the information age the power of words is greater than ever before. So by any objective standard the problems we face today, while profound, are certainly not greater than they were in the Great Depression, or in the Second World War, or when Mr. Lincoln made those statements when he left his home in Illinois to become president that Governor Engler quoted, or when George Washington suffered defeat after defeat until, finally, we were able to win by persistence our freedom. No, they are not, these times, as difficult as they are, more difficult than those.

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What makes them more difficult is the power of words, the very source of our liberation, of all of our possibility and all of our potential for growth. The communications revolution gives words not only the power to lift up and liberate, [but] the power to divide and destroy as never before -- just words -- to darken our spirits and weaken our resolve, divide our hearts.

So I say, perhaps the most important thing we should take out of Andy Young's wonderful message about what we share in common is the resolve to clear our heads and our hearts and to use our words more to build up and unify and less to tear down and divide.

We are here because we are all the children of God, because we know we have all fallen short of God's glory, because we know that no matter how much power we have, we have it but for a moment. And in the end, we can only exercise it well if we see ourselves as servants, not sovereigns.

God must have been telling us something when He created the three great monotheistic religions of the world in one little patch and then had people fight with each other for every century after that. Maybe we have seen the beginning of the end of that, in spite of all the difficulty. But [it will never happen] unless the power of words become instruments of elevation and liberation.

So we must work together to tear down barriers, as Andy Young has worked his whole life. We must do it with greater civility. In Romans, St. Paul said, ''Repay no one evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all; do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil by good.'' There's not a person in this room that hasn't failed in that admonition, including me. But I'm going to leave here today determined to live more by it.

Lastly, let me ask you to pray for the President that he will have the wisdom to change when he is wrong, the courage to stay the course when he is right, and somehow, somehow, the grace of God not to use the power of words at a time in human history when words are more omnipresent and more powerful than ever before, to divide and to destroy, but instead to pierce to the truth, to the heart, to the best that is in us all.

Thank you all, and God bless you.

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