Why is it that in any given setting with children from ages 5ish-11ish, they have a fear of saying ‘hell’ in the proper context because they might swear, but they have no problem calling each other ‘idiot’ or ‘stupid’? Are we (adults) teaching the next generation that cussing is worse than verbal violence?
What is meant by verbal violence? I’m a pacifist, but often when this is brought up in conversation, we immediately jump to topics like war or gun control, but pacifism isn’t limited to physical violence. Rather it is about not bringing ANY KIND of pain on another person purposefully whether verbal, emotional, spiritual, mental, etc… as well as physical. Verbal violence are words or a verbal attack meant to hurt, manipulate, or devalue another person or another person’s reputation.
I turned to my Facebook friends to help me think of ways in which verbal violence is used. I asked, “What are some examples of the most hurtful things anyone could ever say to someone else?” I received several comments (high-five to those who helped!) For the lack of space to list them all, I have put them into the following 8 categories:
- Attacks on self-worth: “You’re not enough!”
I.E. “We don’t really want/ask/need you here”, “You’re a disappointment”, “You don’t belong here”, “You don’t matter” and/or “You’re not attractive”.
- Attacks on Ability to be Successful at a Job: “You’re not good enough!”
I.E. “You need to quit your job”, “You’re not a professional”, “You’re a bad example”, and/or “You’re doing everything wrong; you’re a failure”.
3. Spiritual Abuse: “You need to be where I am spiritually!”
I.E. “I doubt you really love that person”, “I’m not even sure you love God”, “God can’t use you”, and/or “You can’t be a Christian if…”
4. Ignorant Stereotypes: “You are all the same—pathetic!”
I.E. “Being a stay at home mom means you do nothing all day long”, “You throw like a girl”, and/or “You’re not a REAL man unless…”
I.E. You expect something from someone and it’s not delivered. Times when it would be helpful if someone would just get it out in the open. Passive Behavior.
- Silenced: “My thoughts are the only ones that matter… Duh!”
I.E. “Let’s not talk” because of a disagreement. When you say something, the other person just shrugs it off or scoffs at it. The other person continually interrupts and/or talks over you.
- The Back-Handed Compliment: “Let me smack a happy face on what I really think of you.”
I.E. “I asked you to teach just to see if you could take something seriously”, “You’ve lost a lot of weight for once”, and/or “I find it really special when a man actually knows how to wash dishes.”
- Gossip: “I don’t have the guts to say it to their face.”
Do I really need to give examples of this one?
Now, if you’re like me, you just read that list and felt a bit speechless! Words can seriously hurt us in various ways! In fact, according to Harvard Gazette, children who are repetitively verbally abused can suffer the same psychological effects as physically and sexually abused children. Words are capable of being just as dangerous as a physical beating! Wow!
And yet we spend so much time trying to erase cuss words from movies, music, and life in general, when it appears there is far worse verbal violence that is taking place in this world. If you are someone who has problems with cuss words, so be it, but let’s not ignore all the other hurtful things that can be said as well.
James 3 is a direct confrontation towards how every one of us are guilty of how we use our words and the extreme destruction they cause. Verses 3-7 speaks of how small our tongue is and how great the devastation it can leave behind. Verses 7-8 explains that all kinds of wild animals can be tamed, however, our tongues cannot be tamed. Lastly, verses 9-12 shares the irony of how we praise God and curse humans, God’s own creation, with the same exact muscle in our body.
Often while growing up, I was told to put a rubber band around my wrist and every time I caught myself gossiping, I just snap it, and the continued pain would stop my gossiping. Or I was told that every time I belittled someone I was to put $0.25 into a jar, and the lack of money would help me to stop. As much as people were trying to help me deal with sin, I have learned over the years, these attempts really are futile. I have learned to really stop the sin from our mouths is to understand James 3:11 which reads, “Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.”
If we want our words to be more Christ-like, the change starts from the inside out, not from the mere outside, or even the outside in.
For a while now, God has really been talking to me about how I use my words. Here are some things that I have learned and I’m still learning that I pass on to you for what it’s worth. Perhaps you can think of more examples (and if so, please share in the comments).
Listening with Empathy
We live in a culture that likes to talk and be right (and I’m just as guilty as the next person). If we want our words to be used wisely, sometimes that means shutting up and just listening with empathy. And it is possible for us to validate others without agreeing with them.
It’s amazing how much pride we can hoard and NOT EVEN BE AWARE OF IT because it has become a part of our everyday speech in conversation and often in clichés. When I started to fully understand how everyone is equal it was much easier to spot negative “-ism”s such as sexism and racism where it shows its head in everyday life.
I already alluded to this in the introduction, and like I said, violence goes beyond war and gun control. Once I understood the concept of loving my enemies, I have put more thought towards how to stand up for myself and put safe boundaries around myself while being cautious of how it might hurt someone else.
God created us to be in relationship with Him and with others. When we gossip or criticize we can easily destroy a gift God has given us. When I started understanding interdependency, I started to understand why its important relationships stay intact.
I have started to realize that when I confront an issue, it cuts down on such a great deal of gossip. It halts my desire to tell someone else so that I can look right. Although, I will be the first to admit, I still struggle on the right way to confront, which is just as important.
I have someone who I call my vaguebooking friend, and when I need to just ERGGGGG, well I communicate with her. We have a mutual understanding that we are just frustrated and need to get something out in the moment, and we trust one another. We also live several hours away from each other and we don’t usually know who the person even is that we’re frustrated with at the moment.
I often find myself pondering the question, “What if we treated all verbal violence the same way we treat words like: “hell”, “shit”, or “damn”? How would that look? Would gossip be minimal? Would we try to understand and empathize with one another more? Would we value our relationships more? Would we all know that we are all enough? Would we be more patient with one another? Would everyone have better self-esteem and better self-worth?