When I was nine and subject to teasing, my father taught me to reply, “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” It wasn’t true, of course. Words can do real damage, often invisible, unlike that caused by sticks and stones.
I am familiar with the ways other people’s words wound me, but I am becoming more aware of the way my words can wound me as well as those around me.I am frequently tempted to make snarky comments, since words come easily to me. I want to spit poisonous rhetoric back at offensive words. Yet as I am tempted to respond in kind, I overlook the the effect that the retort is having on me. I diminish myself in my attempt to diminish the other. I add to the noise that is furiously boiling around us these days. Sometimes I even repeat the offensive words as I refute them. Now I have put the ugliness back out there.
When I was growing up, civil discourse was seen as a virtue. “Civil discourse is engagement in discourse (conversation) intended to enhance understanding,” according to the dictionary. I am trying, in my own life, to retrieve an ability to have conversation intended to enhance understanding, both my own and the other person’s.