“Death and Life are in the power of the tongue.” This quote comes from the book of Proverbs (18:21). In today’s world, this quote may have been extended to include: “Death and Life are in the power of the text message or Facebook post.”
People have known for millennia that words are extraordinarily powerful and can permanently hurt another person, if not physically, then emotionally and spiritually. Physical wounds can heal; often, emotional wounds are much more difficult to heal. Words hold such power that Proverbs saw words as holding the very essence of life or death.
How much more so, in today’s world, through the use of text messaging or posting on the Internet? While we may not be literally using our tongues, our mobile devices become surrogates for our tongues; and, given the infinite distances their words can travel, they possess immense power.
A text message or post can irrevocably damage the reputation of another person or even an institution. The impersonal nature of such an action can also elevate this emotional violence to a new level that the tongue could not do alone.
This is more evident than ever. The U.S. elections have brought out the worst in people, and any discussion about Israel on social media can do the same. It stuns me how vicious people can be with their words. It is sometimes even frightening. Social media is helping to fuel anti-Semitism, which is on the rise on college campuses and elsewhere. And a perpetrator who comments anonymously makes it that much easier for others to follow suit and to be hateful.
This is not just an issue for adults. Children and teens find it much easier to be mean-spirited and even vicious with their words when they do not have to face their victims. That is why it is incumbent upon parents to monitor their children on social media. And even better, do not allow younger children to have access to social media.
We have a responsibility to others and to ourselves to guard our tongues and our fingers from speaking or texting “evil.” We need to focus on and nurture life, not death in the killing of one’s soul by an evil tongue/text.
In the spirit of the Jewish New Year in which we find ourselves, and in response to the unacceptable tone of the current presidential campaign as it heads into its finale, we should all set aside time this weekend to share this Proverb with our children, and talk about the power of the tongue and extend it to texting and postings.
After you have this important conversation, I invite you to encourage your children, or do it together as a family, to write your own Proverb that expresses the same message. Here’s an example: “My tongue can be as gentle as a lamb or as ferocious as a lion.” Or simply come up with a quote. Here is an example of one I recently saw, “The tongue has no bones, but is strong enough to break a heart. So be careful with your words.”
If you write your own Proverb or quote, please feel free to share it in the comment section below. I would love to see what you and/or your children write.