The High Price of Insensitivity

“There are those whose teeth are swords, whose teeth are knives, to devour the poor from off the earth, the needy from among mortals” (Proverbs 30:14 NRS).

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This past Sunday, I had a conversation with my Confirmation class about language.  They wanted to know what the Church had to say about cursing.  While the United Methodist Church does not have a direct stance on profanity, it does have clear stances on language that is used to hurt, intimidate, or demean.  I told them that, as Christians, we are called to build people up, not tear them down.  When we throw out the “f” word, we often refer to that as “dropping f-bombs” because they are meant to do damage, to explode like our anger.  I told the youth that using words like that usually shows one of two things: either you’re so frustrated and upset that you lose control and lash out, or you don’t have any better word to use.  I can think of plenty of words that would sting more than the “f” word, provided you were educated enough to know their definition.  But our words are not meant to sting, they are not meant to be the source of someone’s pain.

The more I think about that conversation, the more I think about all the ways in which our children and youth are bombarded by painful words.  They flow forth from bullying peers, from adults who take offense to the sight of them without knowing who they actually are, and from those that should love them, but instead abuse them verbally.  It used to be that you were only bullied in person, but, thanks to technology like cell phones and the internet, you can be bullied in the safety of your own home.  We tell them not to take it personally, not to let it hurt them.  “Sticks and stones may break your bones, but words can never hurt you.”  Yeah, right.

Adults know how deep the wounds are made by harsh, insensitive words.  Ask the woman with low self esteem whose husband always tells her how fat she is just because she put on ten pounds.  Ask the elderly man who is told by someone decades younger that he doesn’t know anything.  Ask the teenage girl who is continually the object of obscene cat calling because she physically developed earlier than her peers.  Ask the young man who is publicly berated because he cannot throw the ball with proper form.  More than anything we are stripping one another of our humanity, dehumanizing them until they become nothing more than objects of derision for our own issues with body image, impatience, ego, gender expectations, etc.  Christ, who knows us better than we even know ourselves, could really rip into us, but instead he offered words of Grace.  Hanging on the cross, he would have been absolutely justified in railing against us for our blatant sinfulness that hung him there, but no.  He looked down from the cross and said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34 NRS).  Maybe we should follow Christ’s example and extend some grace to those we take offense toward when we don’t really know what’s going on inside them.


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