Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Dealing With Harsh Words

It seems every week a new high profile person is issuing an apology for saying something outrageous. We are seeing an incredible increase in on-the-air outbursts that include racial epithets, comments demeaning to women, statements that are insulting to people of various political persuasions or just plain ole rudeness. One would think in this era of political correctness, our public speech would increase in civility and decrease in coarseness. Sadly, I believe the voluminous increase in embarrassing speech shows we are retrogressing in the area of public restraint and grace in the way we talk.

This increase in hurtful speech is also heard on the streets everyday. As a youth, I remember hearing peers who were "big and bad" cussing like sailors out of the earshot of adults, but converting to the whispering, respectful tones of a monastery if there was even the hint of an adult presence. This is no longer the case. I am at the point where I want to issue ear muffs to my children before we go to the Mall, because I know that 9 times out of 10 we are likely to hear someone with a "potty mouth" hurling obscenities with the efficiency of a Cold War Era Drill Instructor and not caring who hears them! We clearly have a serious cultural problem!

With the celebrities of late who have been publicly diagnosed with "Acute foot in mouth disease" the suggested prescription goes something like this: 1. Apologize profusely on as many broadcast outlets as possible. 2. Seek out the most publicly renowned person of the group you have insulted, beg their forgiveness and seek to open up a dialogue with as many of their comrades as you can. 3. Check into rehab. This is a start. It is appropriate, Biblical, and Christian to apologize when we injure others and it is certainly appropriate to seek to make amends for harm done whenever possible.

The problem with the emotional and relational damage of words is that unlike physical injuries, the wounds words inflict can take generations to heal and can hurt others beyond the immediate group at whom our ill-intentioned words were aimed. The "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me" adage just isn't true. And rehab...Can anyone be sure that a week or two of therapy in a comfortable if not luxurious setting can really change behavior? I might be more convinced if there were specialized modules of "Scared Straight" clinics where the offender was forced to face the most intimidating members of the group offended in closed quarters for a month!

Even these efforts leave us hollow and seem to fall short. More than anything, the contrite words and humble apologies come off as efforts to save a career not to truly make amends. What, then, do we do? Well, we can begin first by remembering what Scripture says, "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." Before I begin to beat up on anyone without mercy, I need to check my attitude and remind myself of the times I have made harmful statements and offended others by the things I said. Next I need to remember that Jesus says that the harmful things we say proceed from our hearts, not an empty vacuum or "heat of the moment". Harmful words betray some kind of issue lurking inside us. Even Christians sometimes have areas we have not brought under the Lord's control and spew unbelievable verbal sewage that brings shame on ourselves, other Christians and our Lord - How much more non-Christan's! Taking this fact into account, it is clear that mere apologies and rehab will not ultimately solve the problem of heinous verbal spewage. What is needed is a heart transplant, a spirit overhaul and a mind transformation. Of course, I'm talking about being reborn through a relationship with Jesus Christ and consequently allowing Him to renew us in the ways we feel and think.

The Scripture commands us to stop being conformed to the World System, and to submit ourselves to be transformed by God by having our minds renewed by His Spirit so that we may prove through our actions what is good, acceptable and perfect according to His will. This process would transform and govern everything about us, including the way we think which ultimately influences the way we speak. If my mind is transformed to be like the mind of Jesus, I will consider others before I consider myself, not looking down on them with condescension, but looking directly at them with compassion and an earnest desire to understand and bring healing.

For this reason, when I consider the harmful words of the latest celebrity Bad Boy, my heart goes out to him. If I could say anything to him and others who find themselves in similar situations, I would say, "As a Christian and a gentleman, I accept your apology. However, I challenge you to go beyond trying to save your job, and invite you to turn to the One who can save your soul and transform you inside and out so that you will be far less likely to even have the desire to say something that could be considered harmful or destructive. My friend, let your heart be transformed so your speech will be reformed." That's the kind of rehab we all need.

Until next time,


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