Sticks and stones can break my bones but words can often kill me.
That’s my new sentiment toward the power of words.
What we say is a direct display of what we are.
I know a Murderer. A few actually and will write about that in a few days. But did you know that when we speak a certain way, we are in a sense, murdering other people?
Anytime we use words or expressions of words (memes, songs, jester jingles) to portray other people in a negative way we harm the way our community views them. Infamous people whose severity has been lost by time still have the connotation of bad news just by hearing their name. If someone we meet on the street shares that name we immediately think of the bad. I mean, how many Adolfs do you know today?
Now, I am not advocating that we should sugarcoat bad things and pretend they didn’t happen. I’m just using this as an example of how it is very difficult to overcome negative social “words” and ideas. So, if your neighbor gets upset with you about something silly and has a few harsh words toward you, then you go to work and speak ill of your neighbor you’ve poisoned others against them. Then you get home and your neighbor has left an apology note on your door. Well, their reputation has been murdered at work and no matter what you say tomorrow, your coworkers won’t change their perception of your neighbor anytime soon. So when the neighbor’s son comes in for an interview with the company, it’s a guaranteed “no” because of your words, not because of anything true related to their character.
Good news doesn’t travel fast when bad news has gone before. When people hear of a scandal or an affair it gets social media burning like wildfire. But, when the issue is resolved and everyone is back together, the media has no interest in stating, “All of our commentary on this man was unfounded, he did what was right and is a humble person who admitted his mistakes. How honorable!” Would you want to watch that episode?
Words not only destroy reputations they also destroy value and self-perception. What we say to other people never leaves. Even after the reconciliation is done, the accusations, assumptions, and assaults with words (via voice or text) still linger for decades in the background. The old, “forgiven but not forgotten” is a reality.
Sometimes it may feel justified to talk about others in an attempt to “help” someone else, but in reality, there is rarely a situation that makes it necessary to speak of others in any ill way, even if at the moment, it is truthful. Imagine, if you’re married or dating, getting into a disagreement with your partner. Words are exchanged and to be honest, bad words and feelings ensue. Then, almost immediately after the two of you see what you’re doing and work to ask for forgiveness, and you both give it.
Let’s say that a week later during an afternoon cookout with friends, someone begins to talk about how nice you are and that you are always a kind person. Then your partner interrupts the banquet by saying, “well, you don’t know them, they have done this, said that, and acted this way, just a week ago they did…” What would you do? You would be destroyed.
When we do this in the presence of others it’s bad. When we do this behind other people’s backs, it’s murder. There is never a way to fix the problem. And, if we’re honest, we don’t want anything fixed, most of the time people who like to talk about other people find it their fuel and they live a miserable and unfulfilled life surrounded by people who thrive on talking about problems and people.
Here’s a thought. GET ahead of this problem by first making sure we don’t do it. Then take some steps to completely remove the practice and the people who refuse to stop.
TAKE NOTE and STOP
When we find ourselves speaking about others, even celebrities, politicians, or evil criminals from the news, just take note. Realize that it’s addictive and stop. There is nothing productive or entertaining. People who complain are not just those who whine about their own problems, they also like to discuss the bad things in the world. We do not have to be this type of person. Be free.
PUT YOUR FOOT DOWN
It’s one thing to stop the practice but it’s a whole different matter when we are around others who continue in it. So, we have to put our foot down against people in our lives who bring up other folks. We just have to say, “Hey, I know you’re passionate about this/that/them, but I have no interest in listening to this and it is not healthy for me. I would appreciate your not talking about this while I am around, please.” Anyone who cannot receive this in humility is not a person who is a friend to anyone. Let that sink in. There are millions of amazing people in the world that are not like this. Find them.
MAKE A MENDS
If you have been partying to saying or listening to trash talk (EVEN TRUE THINGS) about other people, make it right. Go to the person(s) and apologize. Go to those who spoke to you and make it right. Tell them that you were wrong and evil to destroy another person’s reputation in their eyes. Make the damage less by being honest and reputable. It may get you cross looks, but I tell you that people will find a new respect for you and your friendships will become stronger and more trusting.
THINK THEN SPEAK
I have recently found that I correct my youngest daughter way too often. Not that she doesn’t need it, but that it seems to be the fullness of my interaction with her. I don’t want this to be what our relationship is about, so I have a new strategy that I’ve been doing for about two weeks. I will stop and pause, for up to thirty seconds before I say anything. During that pause I will ask a few questions:
- What do I want to accomplish?
- How can I say this in a way that will encourage and build her up instead of making her feel like a failure?
- Do I have to say anything or am I just irritated?
- Am I assuming something based on what I see rather than asking her what she means?
- Can I redirect the matter toward my desired outcome without even being corrective?
- What can I do here to show her that I love her without saying that I love her?
These are not exhaustive or conclusive, but they get the job done. And my pause is typically only about five to ten seconds. Thinking before we speak brings so much to the table. It eliminates the need to ever reconcile because of what we say or think because of gossip.
Have you ever been the victim of such things? Have you ever been party to talking about people? How long have you harbored hurt because of things that were said to you? What steps have you taken to make things right, come to terms, and made peace?
For the believers who read my words. I can prove these principles in every single book of the New Testament. No exceptions.