If you spend any significant time around my house, you will likely hear the following phrases: “Hello? Kind words, please!” or “Is there any way you could have phrased that better?” There is also the ever-popular, long, drawn-out, “Whoa! Tone!” With election rhetoric in full-swing with no signs of stopping, our children are being exposed to all kinds of words: put-downs, insults, accusations, and name calling. Marist’s day of “civil discourse” is coming not a moment too soon.
I’ve had some challenges with words lately as well. A family member said some very unkind and unfair things to my husband and me this week. It put me in a day-long funk where I replayed the words in my head, and it distracted me from what was important. Even my husband said he wanted to turn the car around and go back to bed.
On a positive note (and what happens much more frequently), I have also had friends and even strangers share empathetic, uplifting and encouraging words with me this past month. These life-giving words changed the trajectory of my day for the better, making me feel happy, peaceful, comforted and worthwhile. I was then able to pass that grace on to others. Paying it forward, as God fully intends.
I remember my parents telling me over and over – “sticks and stones,” but the truth is, words can really hurt. We think that the middle-school years of sharp tongues are behind us (and for those of us with middle schoolers, we are still living in the thick of this), but even as adults we can be the recipients or deliverers of harsh, unkind or judgmental words.
What would Jesus do? I think we all know the answer. So simple, yet for us mere mortals, so difficult. I know that my mouth often works faster than my brain, so I have been known to say stupid, careless things – things you want to pull back in as soon as you say them. I know that God gave me two ears and one mouth for a reason.
During the World Youth Day celebrations this past summer, Pope Francis took a call from a teenage girl who was the victim of bullying in the form of cruel language. He said, “Gossip is terrorism. It’s the terrorism of words, insulting one’s heart, dignity and in this young person’s case, nationality. We must choose silence, patience and most importantly forgiveness; however, these choices are not easy. We must ask the Lord for help in choosing to forgive and forget fully, and ask Him to forgive those who hurt us.” (Vatican Radio, 7/28/16)
Proverbs is full of words of wisdom regarding the power of words:
“Pleasing words are a honeycomb, sweet to the taste and invigorating to the bones.”
“The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.”
“Death and life are in the power of the tongue; those who choose one shall eat its fruit.”
And lastly, I leave you with a quote from the New Testament:
“Therefore, encourage one another and build one another up.”
1 Thessalonians 5:11