I want to change the old adage we grew up with and revise it to read instead, "Sticks and stones might break my bones, but words can really hurt me."
Words are powerful. As a certified word-nerd, I'm enamored with them. I absorb words incessantly - from books and cereal boxes to advertisements and greeting cards. I appreciate this art form that has the power to inspire, heal and educate. Carefully chosen words can soothe a wounded heart, stir a nation and empower the oppressed. And of course, words said with venom will wage war, sear the soul, and leave carnage in their wake.
I'm thinking all of this because try as I might to speak the language of peace, my tongue very often gives in to temptation. My propensity to use it without enough forethought has landed me in trouble more than once. Last week my tongue got me in some trouble, and I got back what I gave in spades. Here's what happened (why do I always seem to be confessing here? Please write and tell me I'm not the only one).
Let's just say I had a brush with the dark side of social media. I made a comment that, well, let's just say, wasn't well received. It wasn't my intention, but I clearly struck a nerve by protesting what I perceived as a derogatory, divisive post. Can you see where this is going? Yep, my words added some fuel to the flame.
Big mistake on my part. What ensued was the most vicious verbal attack I'd ever endured. I won't repeat it here, but suffice it to say - I had never encountered such maliciousness before. I was shaken to my core.
Recently I've fallen in love with the book of Proverbs. Verse after verse speaks to the issue of choosing words carefully - that the taming of the tongue is the triumph of the wise (my paraphrase). One of my favorites from chapter 12 advises, "Rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing." Now, why couldn't I have remembered that before I made my comment?!
I summoned all of my humility and reached out to apologize to this man for posting on his page, as we weren't friends either online or in real time. Such is the alternative universe of social media. He didn't exactly appreciate my attempt at humility. And I learned two very important lessons. First, I should always take a breath to calmly consider the right words. Are they helpful or hurtful? Do I want to inflict pain or healing? Is it better left unsaid, even if I have to bite my tongue?
Notice I'm not saying that holding the tongue is always the best route. How often have you bitten your tongue, congratulated yourself on your peaceful response, only to seethe and explode later? What I'm talking about is measuring my words, and perhaps now and again swallowing them until I can string the right ones together when I've worked through my immediate response.
Second, even when I do speak the language of peace, or offer apology or concession, there is very often no immediate reward. My words could succeed in diffusing or soothing - or, they may be scrutinized, labeled as weakness, even persecuted. But it's what I signed up for in following Christ - to do my best to emulate his example. So here's another adage I'd like to wordsmith a bit. Next time my blood pressure rises, I need to ask myself, "What would Jesus say?"
Freelance writer and AFN contributor Diane Meehl lives in Ahwatukee, where she and her family practice the fine art of taming their tongues. They worship at Ahwatukee's Mountain View Lutheran Church.