"Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen."
- Ephesians 4:29
The last few days have been emotionally exhausting for America. First there was the Don Imus fiasco, which surfaced deep-rooted pain, suspicion, and anger over racial divisions in America. Then, this week, there was the horror of the Virginia Tech shootings, which forced us to confront the reality of evil, and our fear of mortality. Later, the Supreme Court ruled that partial birth abortion, a grisly procedure that must have been conceived by the producers of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, could be banned by law.
While these three stories might seem disparate and disconnected, each involves the debasement of human dignity. It's clear how mass murder and infanticide strike at the heart of human dignity, but it's easy to underestimate the destructive impact of mere words.
Whoever coined the phrase "sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me," probably meant to encourage some poor child who was being teased in the school yard. We all know, however, the phrase isn't true. Words can wound. They can be terribly destructive. They are, after all, the packages in which we wrap ideas, and ideas have consequences. Hitler successfully labeled the Jews as "vermin", and thereafter managed to get the Germans to turn a blind eye to the mass murder of six-million of them. Here at home, epithets like "nigger" and "jigaboo" were applied to people of African descent, and such labels helped anesthetize the public to the injustice of slavery and unequal treatment of blacks.