Just one more thing: Death and life are in the power of the tongueJust one more thing: Death and life are in the power of the tongue

   Most airlines today publish monthly magazines for their passengers to read while in flight. I was flipping through one on my way to San Francisco, Calif., when an advertisement caught my eye. It was for a tongue cleaner. All that the user had to do was hook some sort of band around his or her tongue and pull down. This procedure was guaranteed to make one's mouth cleaner and fresher than ever before and for only $3.98.
   I laughed to myself when I read it, thinking that any device that could clean up a person's tongue would be a bargain at any price. It is something we could all use. It reminded me of Proverbs 18:21: "Death and life are in the power of the tongue."
   By the very nature of our society, all of us talk a great deal. Our speech is a determining factor in our interpersonal relationships. But because speaking is the most commonly used method of communication, usually we are not so careful about what we say, how we say it, to whom we say it or how it will be received. I am convinced that a majority of our problems stem either from the remarks we make or from the careless manner in which we make them.
   The most common of all human-tongue sins is putting other people down. It's so common that many guilty of this kind of hasty speech never stop to think how wrong, how truly harmful it is.
   You know what "putting down" means, of course. It's a useful phrase that young people have added to the language. It means substantially the same thing as "belittling" or "denigrating" but it's much more vivid. It manages to suggest both the motivation and the effect of remarks and gestures that are calculated to make another person feel stupid or inferior.
   Some people use put-downs out of deliberate cruelty. But most of us put others down because we're trying to build ourselves up... to gain some edge of moral or intellectual superiority that will give us an advantage in our relations with the target of the put-down.
   Put-downs may be directed at strangers, minorities or casual acquaintances; But they are most vicious when they take place in the context of an intimate relationship. An example is when a husband uses his wife as the brunt of his shortcomings, shifting the blame to her, making him feel superior. "We were late today because my wife took too long getting ready." Treating someone like a second-class citizen is not Christian.
   Another form of put-down is interrupting others who are talking. This is extremely rude. It is a top-notch put-down. This particular symptom is also common to married couples. One will start to relate a story and the other will "sweetly" interrupt to correct a statement or add an "important" point.
   It is characteristic of the put down that the person doing it thinks he or she is being subtle, where as the victim immediately recognizes the slap for what it was intended to be. To pretend we didn't mean to belittle or embarrass someone, when that was precisely what we hoped to do, is to compound malice with hypocrisy.
   We have all practiced the art of put-down at one time or another. Is it sinful to put another person down? Christ said the supreme moral law, the one commandment in which all other rules of human conduct are assumed, is that we should love one another (John 13:34-35).
   When Christ spoke of loving others, He did not mean just being fond of them or feeling affection for them. He meant that we have an overriding duty to deal kindly and charitably with everyone with whom we come into contact to treat others (whether in the Church or not) as we'd like to be treated.
   Does this apply to parent-child relationships? I think it does. Some parents consider it almost a duty to put down their teenage children at the slightest opportunity. Children subjected to this treatment quickly become equally adept at making parents feel foolish.
   A Christian parent has a duty to teach, correct and admonish his or her children, provided it is done in a spirit of genuine love. However, caution should be taken not to condemn them or to belittle them by using put-downs at any age. Perhaps if we could all grasp this simple truth there would be less alienation and antagonism between generations.
   Putting down is wrong because it is an offense against love. It is essentially an unloving act, no matter how hard we try to justify it in our minds as a comeuppance that the other person needs.
   Christ had extraordinary insight into human nature. He recognized how easy it would be to rationalize a put-down by saying, "I did it for his own good," In Matthew 7:1-5. He forestalled that alibi by warning that none of us has any business trying to judge, criticize or reform someone else. "Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye." He said. Do not condemn others, and God will not condemn you.

Publication Date: June 01, 1981
Back To Top