“The tongue has no bones but is strong enough to break a heart. So be careful with your words.”
How often do we hear of words “killing” someone’s soul? Jesus tells us that gossip is like letting a bag of feathers loose in the wind. No matter how hard we try we are never able to get them all back. What we say has repercussions that are sometimes irretrievable. We know this and yet time and again cruel sentences leave our lips or end up floating in the ether on Twitter or Facebook. Sometimes this happens in a moment of anger but other moments are the result our intent to brutally harm someone with our most ugly thoughts. We say that sticks and stones can break our bones and words can never hurt us, but we know that this really isn’t true.
Sadly we read again and again of young people who are so harassed by their peers that they are driven to killing themselves. I suspect that none of the individuals who poke at someone and make them feel weak actually intend for harm to happen but all too often it does. I recently watched a program about a young woman who was recently found guilty of manslaughter for taunting a depressed friend into committing suicide. Texts on his phone showed that he was reluctant to take his own life, but eventually went through with it at the urging of this young lady who assured him that his family might grieve briefly, but would quickly get over their loss. When he admitted to her that he was scared to follow through on his plan she insinuated that he needed to man up. Eventually he did the deed. The jury felt that without the woman was complicit in his death because he was trying to back out, and she pushed him to follow through on what he had started.
While this is an extreme example of how words have the power of being lethal there are so many examples of youngsters whose confidence is ravaged by the horrific comments of their peers. It’s all well and good to teach our children how to ignore such behaviors, but we also must implore them never to be part of such destructive actions. We’ve all witnessed individuals who become the butt of jokes and sometimes we do so little to help them. It’s very difficult to stand up to kids who are popular or powerful, and yet we need to show our kids how to draw upon the courage to always do the right thing. We cannot sit back and watch the suffering of another even if it means losing our own place in the pecking order. Our children need to understand that they will ultimately be much happier if their own character is strong and just.
Most of the time none of us become involved in such extreme examples of using words as weapons, but we do sometimes say things to the people with whom we are the closest in the heat of a moment. We know their weaknesses and we charge ahead ready to hurt them with a little sting. We have to be very careful in such situations because once our barbs have landed we can’t really take them back. We would all do well to think before we speak and to consider the damage that our words may cause.
We seem to believe that we have a certain level of anonymity whenever we post comments on social media. We believe that out of the millions of words being slung around each moment there is little reason to think that ours will be noticed, but time and again people have lost jobs, tested relationships and angered friends over a snarky response, when the truth is that the only result that is likely to happen in such instances is to upset someone. We rarely change anyone’s opinion with our insulting remarks, so why would we take the risk of speaking out and possibly hurting feelings? I have literally cringed over the words that I have heard people express or seen them write.
We have almost unlimited freedom of expression in this country, but it is up to each of us to know when saying certain things goes beyond the pale. A joke about assassinating the president isn’t funny. Racist comments about those who are different from ourselves have no place in the public forum. While we cannot and should not restrict speech, it is up to each of us to monitor our own utterances and to consider the effects of what we say. Perhaps it is time to instruct our young in such things as well.
Words can be as sharp as any sword. They can mortally wound a soul. We really do need to watch what we say. Gossiping, lying, bullying, threatening, hurting should all be anathema to us. We would not point a gun at another human being, so why do we so blithely allow our words to sting? Whether we shout them or whisper them or write them down they should always be intended for the betterment of the people that we encounter, but never to tear them down.