They are conceited and understand nothing. They have an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions and constant friction between people of corrupt mind~ 1st Timothy 6:4-5a NIV
One of the weirder aspects of growing older is that it is possible to look back in hindsight and identify exactly when a cultural transformation began to take place in society.
One of the more remarkable transformations that has taken place over the course of my lifetime as been our perspective on the subject of words and language. When I was a child no one cared all that much about the rightness or wrongness of words. People just said what they wanted to say and everybody was expected to get over any hurt feelings that resulted.
We were taught very early on in life to say:
“Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me”
Okay, so in retrospect it was not the most sensitive limerick to teach to tender little children. But in those days people where a little thicker-skinned and the rhyme had the effect it was intended to have. Kids (and grown-ups) rarely made much over the insensitive, mean or stupid things things other people said.
All that began to change in the late eighties and early nineties. I distinctly remember a church service in my twenties where the Pastor preached a sermon on the potentially hurtful consequences of words. He recited the above-mentioned rhyme and informed his listeners that everything we had been taught about words as children was a terrible lie. He made the (totally true) point that words do indeed hurt and can leave emotional scars. He closed the sermon by encouraging us all to be mindful of our words because words are powerful and potentially hurtful. I had never heard such a thing before in all my life. Seriously, it was all new news to me.
It was just the beginning.
Out of nowhere there was a crusade to change the way Americans spoke and perceived language. There were public service announcements on the dangers of harsh words and verbal abuse. Talk show hosts interviewed people who had been wounded by the cruel words of classmates and parents. Pop-culture icons began educating the public on the dangers of dehumanizing and harsh words. Task forces were formed to stop bullying in schools and end insensitive and sexually charged language in workplaces. As a result using racist, sexist or just plain mean language became taboo in schools and most workplaces.
In the beginning I was very much on board with the collective sensitivity training. I believed then and still believe that people should choose their words wisely. No one should ever intentionally wound another person with stupid, harsh or cruel words. Verbal abuse and bigoted or sexist language is simply not okay. Ever.
People have managed to take a good idea to a ridiculous and possibly perilous place. Not only is it no longer okay say anything that is obviously insensitive, sexist or bigoted. It is no longer okay to say anything that might possibly hurt another person’s feelings (even if what is being said is clearly true and desperately needs to be said by someone). Every word uttered by everyone is vigilantly scrutinized for obvious as well as incidental offense. Individuals (no matter their maturity level) get to decide for themselves what is hurtful; therefore anything and everything can be (and oftentimes is) construed as hurtful.
The result of this collective insanity has been two-fold. First, we have produced a population of ignorant, narcissistic, panty-waisted crybabies who are so pre-occupied with the effects that other people’s words have on their feelings that they cannot function outside of their own carefully constructed safe-spaces. Not only is this quite clearly sad, it could easily be our downfall. A nation of self-indulgent crybabies cannot possibly remain a nation for long.
Secondly, it is no longer okay to say anything at all unless it makes everyone feel good about their choices, no matter how wrong or ridiculous those choices might be. Our absurd preoccupation with the rightness or wrongness of words has turned us into a nation of liars. We tolerate insanity because we’re scared witless of saying something and being labeled “hateful”. We refuse to verbalize in public the truth we all speak about openly in private: that some things are simply wrong, stupid and detrimental to society.
The real irony in all this madness is that our collective obsession with words has failed to make us better people. Our society is no kinder and no gentler than it was thirty years ago. Our speech is no more uplifting now than it was then. It could, in fact, be argued that our use of words is far cruder and meaner now than it ever was. We’ve forgotten that change, even changing how we speak cannot be commanded by decree. Authentic change comes from a transformed heart and only God can do that.