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As a news hound, that is, one who follows what is happening on the world scene, I am often struck by the lack of civility in political discourse, news reporting and in daily interaction between people in all walks of life. There is a strident tone, a hard edge in many—if not most—exchanges that involve differences of opinion. Whether it is on the floor of Congress, in the chambers of Parliament, in countries large and small, contention seems to be the spirit of the times.
Imputing of motives, name calling and hurling insults seem to be the order of the day, and, amazingly, many of the news programs cultivate that approach in their presentation or coverage of the news. Raised voices, stepping on each other's lines, and interrupting the person who is speaking is the current format being employed by most networks. I can only assume that surveys reveal to the networks that their viewers desire this kind of raucous presentation of the news.
And, this attitude has hit the streets. We often read of "road rage" triggered by some minor incident, resulting in a fight or even a shooting. Workplace violence often starts with harsh words between fellow workers or between a worker and a supervisor or manager. My wife recently had an unpleasant experience at a supermarket. While standing in a relatively long line of folks waiting to check out, a woman with a few items stepped in front of the line and with a glaring look exclaimed in a loud voice to those patiently waiting their turn, "You got a problem with this?" It was a tense, stressful moment, but the rude person's actions totally intimidated the other shoppers. No one spoke up and the incident passed without further confrontation.
What we say and how we say it does have an impact, either positively or negatively, on others. It may not surprise you to know that the Book of Wisdom in your Bible has a lot to say on this important subject. For example, in Proverbs 12:18, it states: "There is one who speaks like the piercings of a sword, but the tongue of the wise promotes health." Yes, words can cause deep wounds, so we should be very careful how we use them. A thoughtless taunt, or a careless barb, can be painful and cause damage to a relationship that may never be repaired.
Proverbs gives further priceless instruction on this important subject. It is written: "A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger" (Proverbs 15:1). If we want to avoid stirring up anger and resentment in others, we should carefully consider the tone and inflection of our voice. Often it is not what we say but how we say it that causes friction and animosity in others. In our verbal communication with our children, our spouse, our fellow workers and those who serve us in the market place, we should consider the impact of our words. Do we build others up or do we tear them down?
To paraphrase the Golden Rule, found in Matthew 7:12: "However you would like others to speak to you, do also to them."
As children, when squabbling, we often heard the refrain, "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me." That was a lie. Words do hurt, and how we use them can have a big impact on our life and the lives of others.
Once again, the book of Proverbs puts it in perspective with these lines, "Pleasant words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the bones" (Proverbs 16:24). What will it be, "Sticks and stones" or "…sweetness to the soul and health to the bones?"
For guidance in this way of life, we offer, totally free of charge, our flagship booklet, "The Ten Commandments" for your instruction and edification. You will find it right here.
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