You know that little school yard adage: “Sticks and Stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.”
Well… It is a huge LIE.
Sticks and stones can break bones but words can hurt long after the wounds from sticks and stones are healed.
Many of us just spew words. We don’t think about consequences. Our brain opens up the trap door and out comes all this stuff. We haven’t taken the time to look it over or check to see who these words could damage.
We’ve all said, “Well, I heard… “
The words are out. You can’t un-say stuff.
You can say sorry.
But sorry doesn’t make anything better.
Michael L Palmer writes:
As follow-up to the fiery conversation on words, I wanted to offer the work of scholars much smarter than I.
In her book, “Braving the Wilderness”, Dr. Brene’ Brown builds on the powerful work done by Dr. Michelle Maiese, the chair of the Philosophy department at Emmanuel College where they examine the weaponizing of words (by the powerful) and how those words are used to dehumanize and, eventually, create space for the harm and (at it’s most horrific) death of the vulnerable:
“Dehumanization always starts with language, often followed by images. We see this throughout history. During the Holocaust, Nazis describe Jews as untermenschen- subhuman. They called Jews rats and depicted them as disease-carrying rodents in everything from military pamphlets to children’s books. Hutus involved in the Rwandan genocide called Tutsis cockroaches. Indigenous people are often referred to as savages. Serbs called Bosnians aliens. Slave owners throughout history considered slaves subhuman animals.”
She goes on to say:
Successful dehumanizing…creates moral exclusion. Groups targeted based on their identity- gender, ideology, skin color, ethnicity, religion, age- are depicted as “less than” or criminal or even evil.” (pg. 73)
Those who are evil are no longer protected by the code of being a good neighbor. Instead, they become a problem to be dealt with instead of a fellow human to be engaged with. We love and serve our fellow humans. We call an exterminator for things that infest our homes.
These words aren’t “just words.”
They are having an impact. Can we see it?
I’m sure you’ve all heard the story about the woman who was a terrible gossip. (Why does it always have to be a woman??) Let me know if I get some of this wrong…
She was becoming a menace and finally someone sued her for defamation. I am not exactly sure about that part. But, she ended up in court. She stood before the judge and he told her he was not going to put her in jail, even though she had been a burr under everyone’s saddle for years.
The judge told her to come back the next day with a feather pillow.
“Huh?” she wondered. “Am I spending the night? Weird.”
The next day she arrived in court with her pillow.
The judge had a policeman standing by.
He told the policeman to take the woman and her pillow up on to the highest hill in the county.
He said, “I’ve given the instructions to the officer and I will see you back here tomorrow.”
So, they went out to the car along with the pillow and the officer took her up the highest hill.
When they reached the top, they got out. It was windy and she had to hold on to the officers arm.
The officer said, “You are to rip open the pillow and let all the feathers out.”
The woman was horrified. I can’t do that! The feathers will blow every where!!”
“Those are the Judge’s orders. Do it.”
So, she ripped open the pillow and out came thousands of feathers.
The wind caught them and they flew high in the sky.
The officer and the woman stood there watching the feathers swirling out over the valley.
The officer led the woman back to the car and helped her in.
Back in the court room the following day, the woman was once again in front of the judge.
The judge stood up and leaned over his desk and looked down at the woman.
“You have tormented this town with your malicious talk. You have spread your acerbic venom everywhere, with no thought for the feelings of others. Today, you will go out and retrieve every single feather to that pillow case.”
The woman burst into tears! “You know I can’t do that!! It’s impossible!!”
The judge eyed her with a look that sent shivers down her spine.
“That is what you have been doing all these years. Where the feathers went? That’s how far your horrid vicious words have gone! Just like those feathers, your destructive words traveled everywhere and they have damaged reputations, broken up friendships, ruined marriages, and caused a division in the town. You have a lot of work to do. You had better get busy. And you had better not show your face in this court room ever again.”
We have just got to start being more careful with our words!!!
A man that I loved very much at one time–and nearly married–said some things to me that are etched in my brain forever. Wicked, virulent, crushing words said in the heat of the moment. I cannot un-hear those words. I will never forget them. Those and many others killed all the love I had for him and sucked all the emotion out of me.
I see on Facebook sometimes couples who are divorcing begin trashing each other for all the world to see. How do you think this makes the children feel? And why do people want to air their dirty laundry out over Facebook land??? Where is any self-control??? No wonder people jump to conclusions and take sides!!! No wonder the rumor mill spins madly. Especially in small communities!!!
“You have minds like a snake pit! How do you suppose what you say is worth anything when you are so foul-minded? It’s your heart, not the dictionary, that gives meaning to your words. A good person produces good deeds and words season after season. An evil person is a blight on the orchard. Let me tell you something: Every one of these careless words is going to come back to haunt you. There will be a time of Reckoning. Words are powerful; take them seriously. Words can be your salvation. Words can also be your damnation.”
–Matthew 12:34-37 (The Message)
The loose tongue of the godless spreads destruction; the common sense of the godly preserves them.
–Proverbs 11:9 (The Message)
This is scary: You can tame a tiger, but you can’t tame a tongue—it’s never been done. The tongue runs wild, a wanton killer. With our tongues we bless God our Father; with the same tongues we curse the very men and women he made in his image. Curses and blessings out of the same mouth!
–James 3:7-10 (The Message)
Why do you think there is so much in the Bible about the poison tongue? Because humans from the very beginning were lying all the time. And they were using their tongues for evil.
What is that little thing?
“Make sure your words are soft and sweet. Who knows which ones you’ll have to eat?”
One of my favorite television shows is “Midsomer Murders” a British Mystery Series on Netflix. Even though this is for pure entertainment, there are some very powerful lessons to be learned from watching some television. I’m not saying all. But some.
There is an episode where a wealthy elderly couple lives in a village and in past years they would take in orphan girls. They raised them, fed them, clothed them and educated them. The girls are all grown and moved away. The gentlemen’s wife has passed away. He is still a greatly respected member of the village. In fact, he has been nominated to become the High Sheriff.
A man who is black mailing several people in the village is found dead in his house. One of his victims turns out to be this elderly gentleman. He concocts a story accusing the gentleman of abusing the girls. This, of course, is not the case. The gentleman receives several hand delivered threatening notices ordering him to pay or the story will go to the papers. During the investigation, the detectives visit him because he has the same house cleaner as all the other people being blackmailed. At first he denies it. The detectives return to his home a few days later and find him slumped over at his kitchen table in an attempt to kill himself. They rush him to the hospital.
As the sergeant and the chief inspector are waiting at the hospital for news, the sergeant asks the inspector why the gentleman did such a thing when he wasn’t even guilty. The chief inspector replies with a quote:
“Good name in man and woman, dear my lord,
Is the immediate jewel of their souls:
Who steals my purse steals trash; ’tis something, nothing;
’twas mine, ’tis his, and has been slave to thousands;
But he that filches from me my good name
Robs me of that which not enriches him,
And makes me poor indeed.”
It didn’t matter that the elderly man was innocent. The word had gotten out. Now there would always be people saying, “Well… I heard…” His reputation was ruined. He was branded.
Let’s not spread gossip. Let’s not start a sentence, ever, with, “I heard…”
Let’s all start using our brain more and our ears more and our mouths less. And when we open our mouths, let’s pray that what comes out will be uplifting and kind and courteous and compassionate. Our friends, our neighbors, our towns, our country, the world needs to hear words of encouragement and understanding.