I recall as young child, being verbally taunted for being a tomboy, for the clothes I wore and for being overweight. Verbal jabs were commonplace in my schooldays and unfortunately, the impact was present for many years to follow. My mother’s retort was “sticks and stones can break your bones, but words can never hurt you.” The message given to me in those school days was one of acceptance of this verbal abuse. There was never a recommendation to deal with the abuse, just to tolerate it as part of life.
Words are powerful and do hurt. What is the response to the pain of words when they are used as a sword? Dialogue. When we enter into discourse with those who toss verbal jabs, first by acknowledging the behaviour, then by “coming to the table” to have discussion, we take the sting out of the words and toss water on the burning of their tongues.
I believe that we are called to discourse. To come to the table of discussion with cool tongues and softened hearts sets precedence for others. When we do not respond to hurtful words, we condone their use and ultimately the abuse they impart. This tacit approval is not what Jesus would have us to do. We are called to stand for equality, love and compassion. Under the New Covenant, we are instructed to love one another – this does not mean to love from afar. It requires action.
Loving those who hurt us is often a challenge – but it is the command with which we have been left. We have been set here at this time in history to show our love for others in word and deed. Love goes beyond tolerance – it rises to the level of education and understanding. We are to teach and preach in word and deed the love of Christ which includes equal treatment.
When we hear verbal insults masked by “humor” we are called to stand for our brothers and sisters – we are called not to laugh, but to bring to light the damage and pain that words cause. When we see others being injured by words it is our call to take a stand. When we ourselves experience hurt due to verbal abuse, tacit approval is not acceptable.
When I was in graduate school, an issue arose out of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) and recruitment on campus by an entity which professes discriminatory practices. The school has a non-discrimination clause in its policy. The GLBT student group was concerned that the school was condoning discrimination by providing space for the military to interview some students (pre-identified by perusal of their records) and was denying interviews to other students based on their student group activities. The GLBT students group adamantly stood behind the non-discrimination clause of the school and demanded that action be taken. We met with the Dean of the school and convened a group for amelioration efforts to offset the damage caused by DADT and the verbal prejudice which was heaped upon on students.
The student military group and the student GLBT group came together at the same table. The first question asked by both was, “why do you hate me?” – both answered the same, we don’t hate you, we just don’t understand you. And so began a dialogue with understanding as the result. There were active military who came forward to discuss the discrimination and how it impacted them, the lives they had to lead and the unhealthy nature of DADT. The power of words from those involved was resulted in friendships which have lasted far beyond school. An understanding was reached. Of course, DADT still exists but there is a class of people in the professional world who have a broadened understanding of the pain of words imparted by legislation. The understanding of one another was reached through dialogue. Words can hurt, but if handled correctly, words can heal too.