The years was about 1978. I was working behind a full service meat counter. A young lady was next and I couldn’t help but notice the entire left side of her face was discolored as if she had just been in a horrible fight. Thinking I was being sympathetic I asked her, “Wow, what happened to your face?”. I will never forget her response and her words when she informed me that it was a birthmark. I don’t know to this day who felt worse over that exchange, her for something she was born with and couldn’t change, or me for being an insensitive jerk and speaking before thinking.
Whoever coined the phrase “sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never harm me” must have never been insulted, disrespected, bullied, or otherwise verbally assaulted. Words have ended relationships, landed people in jail and started wars. They can be as deadly as bullets when spoken and released down the barrel of hatred to their intended target. And just like bullets, once fired you can’t put them back in your weapon; they have already done their damage.
I have been privileged, challenged and exhaustingly enlightened this week to be engaged in several conversations with my black brothers and sisters over the current and never ending racial tensions. What has impressed me the most deeply is that many views and opinions are formed over ill thought out comments or taped interviews where certain people of both black and white races say the most outrageous things and the opposing side is left speechless by the implied hate and bias being spewed forth. I can’t even offer a defense to them when I am exposed to an elected white official talking about the lack of contributions by “sub-groups”, or minorities to the success and fabric of our country. These blurtations (yes, I made that up) are harmful, divisive and deadly because so many who hear them accept them as generalized and representative attitudes of the race. While this may be far from the truth, those who hold to and are not afraid of expressing these prejudiced sentiments and deliver them with the force of a 357 revolver are doing more collateral damage than any assault weapon on the market. The perception that these extreme views are held in common by all people is preventing many from any attempt at healing and constructive dialogue for peaceful relations, and who can honestly blame them.
As with all things I go to my source, God’s word to see how exactly I am to live and control my tongue(could have used that advice in 1978) when communicating with people. Where do we start? I’ll list but a few:
“Death and life are in the power of the tongue” Proverbs 18
“Let no corrupt communication proceed from your mouth” Ephesians 4
“The tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity that defiles the whole body” James 3
“If any man among you seems religious but can’t hold his tongue, he is deceived and his religion is in vain” James 1
“The tongue can’t be tamed and is evil and full of poison” James 3
“A soft tongue break bones” Proverbs 25
The tongue is the true gauge into the soul of a man. The jokes he tells, the tone of his speech, the actual words he chooses all reveal the inner man like an x-ray machine, open and apparent for all to hear and see. Likewise the words you tweet, the words you blog, text or transmit digitally or virtually not only have immediate impact but are permanently recorded to be further transmitted and easily referenced to maximize the damage. Why in this age of technology and social media do we not see and understand this?
Yes, I am overtly concerned with things the way they are still to this day between blacks and whites and am on my own personal campaign to do something different, to be something different and to achieve something different. In doing so I have to examine every aspect of those tainted relations to see how and when they were damaged so that in moving forward through much listening and understanding I can be fully aware of how others respond to me, my words and my actions, or inactions so that I can feel at least that I have contributed something positive to the end result of peace and harmony. I may never see it in my lifetime but I’ll be damned if I continue on maintaining the current status quo when I know I can be better. I have been given a small gift with written words. I pray that I am full cognizant of their impact, both the damage they can do but also the healing they can offer. God help me to choose correctly at all times so that I’m not forced to taste the bitterness of their improper use.