Dan Ford

Like you, I have been hearing and reading some personal slurs and insults from media outlets. In the light of such, let me offer an alternative to a flawed truism that is anything but true: Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can break my heart. Harsh or untrue words certainly do wound us in the deepest part of our psyches. There are not many things worse than being bad-mouthed.

But usually when someone utters hurtful words towards you it is because something is wrong in their own heart. For example, a racial slur comes from the despicable place of considering oneself superior to a whole group of fellow human beings. Similarly, one who curses another is really angry at self. And so on.

One reason siblings often have trouble getting along is because they are so much alike. They see their own faults being played out in the other and lash out, not realizing that their anger is self-ward. That’s the way it is with judging others—we disapprove of them because in their acts we see the portraiture of our own imperfections. Thus, we have the truism that we should not point the finger at another because there are three pointing back at us.

The words people use reveal a lot about them. I have an acquaintance who teaches remedial English at a large university. In one of his sessions with an advisee, he asked a young man what his career goals were. The lad said, “Professor, I want to be a doctor, but my English is so bad that I know I will never make it.” My acquaintance said that, listening with his experienced counseling ear, what he heard the young man actually saying was, “I am a bad person because my English usage has always been criticized by teachers.”

He explained to the young man that he was not bad because his language skills were non-standard. The professor explained it this way, “Your use of English has nothing to do with your character nor your ability to make it to your goals. We can work together to give you another, more standard and favored way of speaking and writing that will help you succeed in any endeavor, academic or otherwise.” 

The fellow was much encouraged by this and took his English course work very seriously. My acquaintance told me he went on to succeed there as a pre-med student.

So, language is important. It can be hurtful or helpful. It can bless and it can curse. Our words have a lot to do with what goes on in our inner person. If we can clean up our tendency to see our own faults in others and become encouragers instead of insulters, we will make the world a better place. Maybe then Twitter will not be a cacophony of insults and their consequences and media outlets can report real, honest-to-goodness news!

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