“Hey Miss A?” called Amanda (real names have been changed), “he isn’t being nice to his friend.” I quickly made my way over to the students playing on the playground. John had just called Tommy a mean name because he was mad about something in their game. Amanda then went on to say: “John shouldn’t talk to Tommy like that because he’s his friend.” I was amazed by Amanda’s ability to recognize that how we speak to others has a significant effect on individuals and their feelings, and that this reflects upon what kind of people we are, too.
This past fall semester, I had my first clinical experience in a kindergarten classroom. The kids in the class sincerely touched my heart and I was able to learn so much from them, even though they were only five and six years old. In their interactions with me and their classmates, they reminded me just how important it is to take notice of how we speak to those around us. So, if kindergartners are able to grasp the need to show love and respect for others by speaking kindly to and about them, why do older persons struggle with this concept? What changes in the growing years of a child to transition a loving mindset into a neglectful lifestyle?
Often, we find ourselves talking about other people and how they relate to us. However, we usually don’t take the time to consider how we are speaking about others, what we say, and what this says about us. In today’s society, we are heavily focused on social media, texting, and the internet. Perhaps what seems to change among children as they grow older has something to do with their adaptation to mobile devices, and the drift from face to face conversation. We become so inclined to talk to others via text and other media platforms that words begin to lose their impact. Teenagers and young adults are exposed to criticism and bad language toward others so often on the internet, that neglecting them easily gets looked over. Our words have the same amount of influence over the phone as they would in person; we must take the time to recognize this factor of communication.
In the Gospels, Jesus calls us to “Love Our Neighbor as Ourselves” (Mark 12:31). In college, we are learning more about ourselves and recognizing that we are capable of attaining success, reaching goals, and harnessing numerous skills and talents. Although life with its various obstacles can be challenging, we emerge as stronger people once we persevere. We must try to remember that the person sitting next to us in class or someone we don’t get along with is also experiencing these ups and downs in their own life. Think about this situation from your own perspective: you want to be spoken to and about with kindness and respect, because each day can bring unexpected challenges.
Gossip will always be prevalent in our society and even on campus. When surrounded by a group of friends, it’s easy to get lost in conversations and feel pressure to fit in by agreeing with what is being discussed. We should not enjoy seeking judgement of others or inquiring about their failings. Gossip, developing in these oral conversations, has also become more prevalent in society through the use of technology. It is very easy to gossip about someone over social media. One post, even indirectly, has the ability to greatly upset someone and ruin their reputation. There have been many times when I’ve scrolled through Instagram or Twitter and seen two people arguing and writing rude messages to each other. The quarrelers’ decision to make such comments publicly reflects upon their own characters. It is easier to hide behind a phone or computer screen than to think about the impact that words truly have. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus advises us not to speak angry words against our brothers and sisters (5:21-22).
Although words can do incredible damage when used to be derogatory, they also are capable of giving life. Rather than contributing to the gossip, choose to speak words of encouragement and blessing upon others. To consciously make this choice when talking about those around you is to acknowledge their humanity. Whatever one’s circumstances, every person has inherent value and dignity. In order to love our neighbors as ourselves like Jesus calls us to, we must begin by speaking positively about them because it reflects their value which lies in Christ.
In the book of Colossians, Saint Paul advises us to set our hearts on things that are above in Heaven rather than things on earth. We are told to rid ourselves of “obscene language from our mouths” (3:8). Human speech is either “in accord with or opposition to God who is Truth itself” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2151). The message of Christ has been given to us so that we may share it with the whole world. By avoiding cursing and bad language, we are honoring this gift we have been given. We are called to use our gift for good, to spread beauty and grace rather than to slander others.
Another common habit among people when it comes to speech is to use the Lord’s name in vain, even casually in conversation. We may think that it is no big deal if it slips out, but what we are really doing by using the Lord’s name in vain is failing to honor God and all His glory. The second commandment, “Thou shall not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain,” forbids false oaths. When we take an oath or swear, we are taking God as witness to what we affirm (CCC, 2150).
The second commandment also prescribes respect for the Lord’s name (CCC, 2142). The Lord’s name is holy, and therefore, we must not abuse it or throw it around lightly when we stub a toe. The Catechism further explains that respect for God’s name is “an expression of the respect owed to the mystery of God himself and to the whole sacred reality it evokes” (CCC, 2144).
So, before yelling “OMG,” think twice about what you are exclaiming. We are all children of God who must take the time to respect our Creator by honoring his name. Once we take the time to think about the way we are speaking and make a conscious effort to check ourselves before taking the Lord’s name in vain, we can inspire others to do so as well. The next time a friend insists on cursing, you can remind him that such language does not honor the Lord.
Everyone wants to be spoken to kindly. However, gossip is inevitable; we are likely to find ourselves its victim at some point in our lives. When we are faced with this, it is our duty to forgive those who gossip about us. This is a difficult task; we might hold grudges against others for a long period of time.
However, we can find inspiration in the Gospel of Matthew, when Peter asks Jesus how many times he should forgive his neighbor who has wronged him. Jesus replies, “I say not unto thee, until seven times: but until seventy times seven” (18:22).
This message stands true when you forgive someone who has spoken wrongly against you. By forgiving them, you are setting an example for all. When you lead by example in the way you speak, others will take notice. Not only will they recognize the need to follow this forgiveness, but they will see Christ within you. Christ lives in all of us, and by living as he did, we continue to seek him in everything that we do.
When you take the time to think about your words, you must think about how it affects others and ensure that it honors the Lord. We are called to love our neighbors as ourselves and recognize the dignity and value that lies in the person sitting next to us. How we speak to them and what we post online affects their well-being and confidence.
When we are kind to our neighbor, it pleases the Lord because we are treating them with His love. Just as my kindergartners recognized that they need to speak kindly to their friends and classmates, so are we called to remember this truth and apply it in our everyday lives.