Have you ever felt like you were "pushed into" doing something? Perhaps you didn't really want to go to that party, but you were made to go. You had other things that you wanted to do, but people kept urging you to go and finally you did, but you were pushed into it. Sometimes we have felt tired or sick and didn't want to go to work, but again we have pushed ourselves into going. We probably all know the feeling.
If someone is a very ambitious person and he or she gets things done, we may say that the person has “a lot of push.” This may not be very complimentary, but we know that the person will make a lot of effort to get something done.
There are times when objects need to be pushed: a stalled car, or in the old days, a lawnmower, or a stubborn mule. But we don't like to be "pushed around," even in crowds or cramped conditions when we might expect it. In many parts of the world, the cities are extremely crowded, and people force their way along a street, sometimes pushing their carts of produce and wares. If we have been with such throngs of people, it is possible to be just "carried along" by the great crowd. We may not like it, but we can be pushed along by something greater than ourselves.
The word pull is used in similar ways: Have you ever felt like you were pulled into something? You become subject to a force that is greater than you. Some people are said to have pull, they know how to "throw their weight around." This does not necessarily mean that they are large people, only that they know how to manipulate or control others. In some cases, they compel people to act in certain ways, to do what they want. They are said to be important people because of both their push and pull.
Sometimes, when someone has been promoted very rapidly, he or she can be said to have been "pushed up" through the company, firm, or bureaucracy. If someone is easily distracted or not very competent as a player, that person is a "push over."
The English language often uses prepositions like over, under, in, on, down, up, and so on and attaches these to verbs like pull and push. When this is done there are many combinations which give very specialized meanings. You probably have heard or used: "He developed his muscles by doing pushups." But not, "He became quite thin after doing one hundred pushdowns"; "She was quite cold, so she put on her pullover." But not, "It was so hot in the room that she took off her pullunder"; "When the police caught the speeding driver, he gave him a signal to pull over to the side of the road." But not, "The driver was going so slowly that the police signaled him to pull under by the side of the road”; "George knew that if he did not pull up his socks, he would soon lose his position on the team." But not, "George played so well that he was told that he could pull down his socks."
St. Paul tells us in the New Testament that we should try to build people up and not pull them down. He told the people in Corinth that he had authority to build them up, not to tear them down. All of us have met people who tear others down, who like to pull them down, so that they are discredited in some way. Christians are told to build each other up, to help one another in practical ways. By doing so they forget about themselves and help others.
Push and pull are verbs which require some sort of action, like go and come. With go and come there is some location that the speaker or hearer has in mind. With push and pull there must be some object which serves as the goal of the action. We go to the park because it is a place we want to see, but we can't push or pull it along the road because it is a location, not a physical object.
There are some other interesting uses of push and pull when they are used in unusual ways. Did you ever have anyone tell you that they were "pulling your leg?" It didn’t take you long to realize that they were joking or kidding you about something. Why didn't they "pull your arm," or "push your leg?" There are ways to find out how expressions like "pull your leg" came about and they are interesting to the specialist who studies words and their histories.
Words have a power of their own because the people who use them intend their meanings in certain ways. Usually, we can easily understand what people mean, so that when Jesus asked if it was permissible to pull an ox out of a well on the Sabbath, we don't have to speculate about peculiar or odd meanings that he might have intended. But when Jesus said that he would pull down strongholds, we have to think a little longer.
In looking at the power of the words push and pull we note how the words denote forces or actions that can be for the good of people or for their harm. It is up to us to decide when to use such words and how to use them. We can’t claim that the devil "made us say it," when we speak words that hurt other people.