Lately I have been faced with something that saddens me to no end. Some of my friends from long ago have been speaking really, really nasty things. They have been going beyond political activism to outright viciousness. These are good people. Maybe when I was younger I would have appreciated their cutting remarks as a form of clever humor. Now I see it for what it truly is: a way of destroying bridges and building walls of isolating self-righteousness. Opposing political views I can handle, but not meanness.
It gets worse.
To be fair, I went to the websites that my friends had been quoting. Wow! What slander! I cannot believe that my friends would consider anything based on repetition, loudness, and catchy slogans. But they are. Try to discuss with them? Suddenly I'm a bigot or worse.
I had been inclined to make careful consideration of their opinions but I can't find any substance other than "I'm right, you're wrong, and you have no compassion if you dare disagree." I am forced to shake my head in sadness.
We deal with situations like these all the time. It can be a belligerent family member or somebody on the street. It can be a political rally or the evening news. At some point we're going to have to deal with the power of words.
And our children are watching. We are the ones who teach them whether or not it's okay to hurl insults at others. We're the ones who intentionally watch or avoid shows that degrade others.
Notice that my sadness is not due to my friends having opposing views, but that they would rather hurt me than talk with me. I doubt that they even know what they are doing.
At church the other day I found a prayer card talking about the power of words. There is no copyright, author, or company name stated or I would cite it. But before I read this prayer card I had not really put together the use of words and the sudden anger in society. Now it seems much clearer to me.
The Power of Words
Detraction: repeating something true without good reason (Sirach 21).
Racial jokes that encourage hatred or sexual jokes which use impurity for entertainment (Ephesians 5:3-4)
Calumny: talking about someone's faults. "Do not judge, and you will not be juded; and do not condemn, and you will not be condemned..." (Luke 6:37).
Sarcasm: a way to put others down and disguise it as humor.
Arguing: speaking nasty or using biting remarks.
Criticizing: constant complaining and scolding to vent rather than a desire to help another out of love (Proverbs 21:9).
Breaking confidences: "Don't tell anyone else, but..." (Proverbs 11:13).
Listening to the words of others can be wrong: "An evildoer listens to wicked lips; a liar pays attention to a destructive tongue" (Proverbs 17:4).
Pretty scary, isn't it? I know I'm guilty of all of the above.
But there is hope. Words of patient love always prevail. Don't believe me? Ask the Roman emperors. Ask how the Soviet Union felt when the Polish people began chanting "we want God!". Ask the US government when Martin Luther King Jr. cried out "I have a dream".
Slogans are not truth. Emotional arguments are not truth. Insults are not the truth. If someone uses these tactics to push an agenda or gain ratings they are not speaking the truth. Do not listen to them. If they tell you to mistrust your neighbor do not listen. If they can not calmly state their arguments then they have none. If they tell you that you cannot work towards healing, they are wrong. Remember that we need to treat others with respect and dignity, just as we wish to be treated with respect and dignity.
Someone disagrees with you? Love them. Who knows, they might be right. Someone refuses to listen to you? Love them. We know the truth. The truth is a Word. And the Word was God. And that word is Love. Want to be on the right side of history? Love. Always.
May God continue to bless you.