Sticks and Stones ... and Words

By Marjorie Foerster Eddington

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” If only this were true. In many of our experiences, words can hurt—a lot!

It’s even worse, now, with social media. People, and especially teens, are becoming severely depressed and suicidal when they take to heart the judgmental, critical, bitter, angry, and damaging words that spread like wildfire through their peer group and beyond.

What can we do—as individuals, as peers, as caring human beings?

Let’s look at what Jesus says. He says that our communication should be honest, truthful, simple. It should be “Yes” or “No,” and anything beyond that is rather devilish (Matt 5:37). If we speak, post, or tweet to put others down, to gossip, to get our own way, to manipulate … it’s simply not right. We need to be clear and up-front in our speech. And if we look at the rest of the Sermon on the Mount, we need to be kind and gentle as well.

But what Jesus says about anger and words in anger is pretty shocking and thought-provoking. First, he brings up the commandment of no killing. Then he goes on: “Anyone who nurses anger against his brother must be brought to judgement. If he abuses his brother he must answer for it to the court; if he sneers at him he will have to answer for it in the fires of hell” (Matt 5:22 NEB).

There are three points here, and none of the consequences sounds great.

  1. If we work hard to maintain anger, if we’re holding onto a grudge, if we’re resentful of someone … then we’re in danger of judgment.
  2. If we insult someone, call someone a name, abuse their character, gossip, post compromising images, make off-handed judgmental tweets … then we must answer in court.
  3. If we lash out at someone with violent verbal attacks, sneer at someone, call them a fool (which, back then, was an absolute slam on their character, one of the worst things you could say), see them as worthless and point it out, are totally contemptuous of them (look down upon them), tell lies about them … then we’re in danger of hell-fire.

Basically, words spoken or posted out of anger kill—they kill joy, a sense of self-esteem, reputation, standing in a social group. Moreover, we are answerable and responsible for our angry words and posts. Not only are we making it miserable for others, but we will also end up having a rather hellish experience in life, one which we’ve created. How can we be happy if we’re living with anger, judgment, and contempt?

So in order to avoid judgment, the courts, and hellish experiences, we:

  • Refuse to nurse anger of any kind.
  • Practice forgiveness for ourselves and others.
  • Allow ourselves to feel, but also allow the feelings to pass. We don’t act on them if we’re angry.
  • Let things go. We don’t have to respond to everything right away. It’s never a good idea to respond or talk when we’re angry.
  • We think before we talk/post.
  • We are careful, kind, honest, and thoughtful in what we say/post.

Jesus explains that we can make a different choice. We can help. We go make it right with the person with whom we’re in conflict. We solve problems, negotiate, compromise, forgive, reconcile with others. We live out from love, not anger. Let’s use social media as an avenue for joy and life and gratitude and togetherness. Let’s not throw sticks or stones or harsh words at each other. Instead, let’s appreciate and value others.