Careless words and statements do enormous damage. They need to be rooted out of our vocabulary.
What's the matter with you?" "How many times do I have to tell you... ?" "The trouble with you is...!" "How dumb can you be?!" "Can't you ever do anything right?" "You always do that!" "You never...!" How often do we hear persons demeaned — belittled — by such careless and harmful statements? Or by these: "If you're so smart...." "All you ever do is...!" "Why can't you be like... ?" "You look like a...." "You'd forget your... if it wasn't...!" These and many similar put-downs seem automatically to pop out of many persons' mouths — perhaps yours — in some frustrating moment or difficulty with others. Sarcasm, name-calling, put-downs, accusations, sweeping negative overstatements are all too common. Others do it. Perhaps we learned to do it too. Maybe they are such a habit, we don't even realize their harmful impact. When such words are spoken to us, do we feel good or uplifted? Of course not! They are not words spoken in the spirit of true love — that is, in a way that is constructive and helpful. What we're really saying is: "I don't respect you. I don't care for your feelings as a person. You're below me!" The attitude behind put-down, belittling words is human pride. It's human self-exaltation! It's really an attitude subtly implanted in us as a result of Satan's bombardment upon human minds (Eph. 2:2-3) — or learned from others so affected. Cutting, belittling words and phrases need to be rooted out of our lives. Repeated often enough, demeaning put-downs get through the toughest skin and cause anything from a distorted sense of shame to blind rage — or mental depression, mental illness or suicide. "Death and life are in the power of the tongue," warns scripture (Prov. 18:21).
Parents to Children
Children too frequently bear the brunt of put-down statements or demeaning words from parents or others. Such words turn some youths into totally crushed, inward-looking, futilized persons. They feel worthless. Other youths try to protect their tender egos from the hurts of such statements by hardening attitudes of disrespect to adults or shouting more demeaning insults to other children. The vicious cycle proliferates. The habit of saying, "You always do something wrong!" or "You'll never learn!" can turn an able, talented child into a youth or adult of stunted intelligence and achievement; an individual with little confidence. Dr. Selma Fraiber in her book The Magic Years says, "A child needs to feel our disapproval at times, but if our reaction is of such strength that the child feels worthless and despised for his offense, we have abused our powers as parents and have created the possibility that exaggerated guilt feelings and self-hatred will play a part in this child's personality development."
Words That Help
In your next aggravating situation, instead of spurting out a harsh, cutting or demeaning response to someone, put a governor on your mouth. Instead say: "Please...." "Please hold the door wider.... Please be neater.... Please be more careful.... Please let me show you." Please is a word that helps us show respect. It puts our minds in a more constructive frame. We deal with others in a more positive and beneficial way. Maybe a child accidentally knocks over a glass of some drink (and who hasn't?). An uncaring person might respond: "You careless kid. Watch what you're doing!" What's so damaging about such a statement is that we are branding a child with a characteristic (carelessness) that may not be true at all. Maybe the parents have failed to set the table properly for children, or have failed to train the child to be more careful. How much more helpful to quietly say in such a situation, "Now go get a sponge and clean it up. And please do be more careful." The child isn't branded as totally inept, instead we express faith in their ability to solve the problem and be more careful. So often we hear individuals retort in some frustrating situation with wild overstatements, such as "You always..." or "You never...!" The danger with such statements is in creating a false or exaggerated reality. The person we are accusing probably at times does do what we want. "You never..." starts to program a false reality in the accuser's mind. That discourages the accused person from doing anything if the accuser so carelessly forgets the beneficial things he or she has done. Why not say, "Please, I would appreciate it if you would...." Or "Would you help me...?" Or "Would you please... ?" We're more apt to spout out some curt or hurting words when we're tired or emotionally upset. The children run up and ask, "Read us a story!" Or the wife asks, "I need your help." Instead of a harsh "No!" or "Don't bother me!" say "I am exhausted and upset. Please wait a while first, OK?" You've explained your present feelings without putting someone down in the process. And you have not closed the door to positive help later. Rather than responding to someone's mistake with a demeaning put-down, we can show disapproval but still be respectful by saying, "I don't like what you did." Be specific about the situation. Don't label the person with damaging names or shoot out a clever put-down. You only create or compound bad feelings, or another problem. The key to saying helpful rather than harmful words to others is always to show respect.
Break the Cycle
If you've been guilty of expressing demeaning, putdown statements to others, stop and ask yourself if you would like them said to you. Of course you wouldn't. But if you now stop expressing hurtful words to others there may be some delay in favorable replies to you. People you've offended want to know if you've really changed. It may take time to heal old wounds. If others respond with cutting words, resist the temptation to retort. Break the vicious cycle of careless put-downs. Show respect and care for the feelings of others. In time others will show more respect and care for you. "A soft answer turneth away wrath, but grievous words stir up anger" (Prov. 15:1). "A wholesome tongue is a tree of life" (Prov. 15:4). And: "Heaviness in the heart of man maketh it stoop: but a good word maketh it glad" (Prov. 12:25). "He that keepeth his mouth keepeth his life..." (Prov. 13:3). What about you? Do your words wound and hurt others? Or do they help and edify? There are many powerful warnings in scripture about the consequences of our words. The uncontrolled tongue, said the apostle James, "is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. Therewith bless we God... and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be" (Jas. 3:8-10). The most powerful warning spoken about our words is expressed by Jesus Christ: "... for out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaketh. A good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good, things [including good words]: "and an evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth evil things [including evil words]. But I say unto you. That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment" (Matt. 12:34-36). Strive to make your words, words that help — not words that hurt!