Fat. Ugly. Retarded. Stupid. Gay. Jerk.
And then there are the ones I can’t (or shouldn’t) even type.
We’re an evil-tongued people. We swear, we lie, we curse, we gossip, and we put others down. James had it right when he said, that “the tongue is a fire…the very world of iniquity… and is itself set on fire by hell.” (James 3:6)
But welcome to 2011 (2 days til 2012). We have set ourselves completely free to say whatever we want to say because we think it and we think it should be said, and we desire to say it. Freedom of speech gone a muck. That’s America for you.
As cowardly as a put-down is, it reaches a new level of cowardice when say from behind a keyboard, through a text, or even worse: posted online for all to see, prop up, and revel in. Under the banner of “just saying”, we’ve allowed ourselves free reign to bypass the filter between our brains and our mouths.
As you may know, I’ve been working with middle and high school students for nearly 17 years. And there isn’t ever a shortage of put-downs floating around. But as I’ve listened to them and corrected them (or attempted to), I’ve seen some common threads. Whether you’re a teen or not, you can likely resonate with these:
1. Put-downs come from those who have been put down.
It’s the old saying “hurt people hurt people”. While the sin nature in all of us is surely the leading factor, its also true that when you see someone being destructive with their words (at work, at the grocery store, on the playground, in the home), know that you’ve found someone who has been shown how to hurt others. This does not condone or defend the behavior, but I constantly have to remind myself that those who are the most painful to be around are often people in the most pain.
#2: Put-downs give a false sense of victory.
Have you ever “stuck it” to someone? You got entangled in an argument, things got heated, and that perfect “zinger” came to mind at just the right time? You likely had a sense of “take that”, but if we’re honest with ourselves those fleeting moments of victory get swallowed up in guilt and an even greater sense of defeat when we choose to employ dirty tactics to gain an upper hand in a verbal combat.
Put-downs are also used in elementary, middle, and high schools to establish who’s who. Oh yeah, and they’re also used in traffic, in workplaces, offices, factories, homes, and nursing homes. Heck, I’ve even seen them used at funerals! All in an effort to establish a footing on a higher pedestal than others.
#3: Put-downs should be corrected…immediately.
Now, some might disagree with me on this one; especially the ultra-tolerant “live and let live” types. But I’m a firm believer in speaking the truth in love. Not in pride, or in piety, or in self-righteousness….in love. When you hear someone say something hurtful, be bold enough to model for them a better way of communicating. Sure you might get blasted yourself, but hey, take comfort in the fact that you did the right thing. Throwing someone a lifeline is your job. Whether they take it or not is up to them.
If the atmosphere is too tense then just wait a while, but not too long. Use a “Remember what you said a little while ago? I wanted to talk with you about that because I’m really struggling with it.”
We possess such power within the small muscle inside our mouths. Did you know that the tongue is the only muscle not attached on both ends? That means that you’ve always got a loose end to watch out for! If you need help then there’s good news. The God who made it knows how best to help you handle it. Ask Him. James was right when he said, “No man can tame the tongue.” (3:8) But we know Who can!