Kristine Frederickson writers that the world is growing increasingly uncivil and cruel words are often as, or more painful, than physical violence. A simple antidote is kindness and words that build up rather than destroy.

It has been delightful and interesting to have a teenager in our home again. One of the best ways to keep a finger on the pulse of what’s going on with young people is to drive them places and while in the car, or at home with their friends around, just listen to what they say.

In the course of doing so, it has been educational and somewhat concerning for me as I’ve noticed that the banter among teens these days often takes the form of insults, mockery and taunting. When I asked my grandson about this he assured me, “We don’t really mean it, we’re just kidding around with each other.”

OK, I’m a dinosaur. I entered the world at about the dawn of civilization. Back in the day, standing around in our cave, I can’t begin to count how many times I heard my mother say, or at church from Sunday School or Young Women leaders, “If you can’t say something nice about someone, don’t say anything at all.”

They meant it.

In Primary, I remember singing that pithy little song:

"I want to be kind to ev’ryone, For that is right, you see. So I say to myself, 'Remember this: Kindness begins with me.'"

(See "Kindness Begins with Me," Children’s Songbook, p. 145.)

Most annoying, and accompanied by lots of teenage eye-rolling, was when some adult would start humming, or heaven forbid, even singing, the words,

There is beauty all around

When there's love at home;

There is joy in ev'ry sound

When there's love at home.

Peace and plenty here abide,

Smiling sweet on ev'ry side.

Time doth softly, sweetly glide

When there's love at home….

In the cottage there is joy

When there's love at home;

Hate and envy ne'er annoy

When there's love at home.

(see "Love at Home," Hymns, No. 294)

I was definitely a wisecracking, smart aleck in my day. Nevertheless, the point was made.

And I’m not trying to suggest we don’t hear some of the same phrases, songs or such sentiments expressed today, and that there are not kind and civil families and friends, and dedicated attempts to communicate the importance of civility today.

However, in my youth such a message was more consistently articulated, while today incivility seems to be more and more the rule, and jesting taunts, and mockery often easily mutate into “Mean Girl” barbs, cutting criticism, cruelty and bullying.

In process of which childhood and teenage self-esteem — inherently a fragile thing — is easily harmed if not destroyed.

This is because words are not only powerful, they are impactful, and employed inappropriately, they can become crippling emotional weapons. A physical punch to the nose hurts like heck, but over time pain decreases and the black eyes fade away. Words are as hurtful, if not more hurtful, than physical punches. They strike the soul, hurt like heck, and often incite or increase our pain. They remain in our unconscious, if not our conscious, memory forever. Persistently applied, they have the ability to distort a person’s sense of self, even their sense of reality. They can leave indelible, psychologically disfiguring scars.

A somewhat mild example from my life. My mother was trim and beautiful. I liked sweets. My mother worried about my weight. While my brother disdained me when we were young for having “cooties,” by junior high school he’d taken to calling me fat. In high school I was 5 feet, 8 inches and weighed about 128 pounds. (Oh, if only it were so today. …) After hearing his barbs long enough, every time I looked in the mirror I saw fat. I really wasn’t fat but not only do perceptions drive our actions, they help craft our mental images. I had internalized his message and personified it when I looked in the mirror, and no attempt to convince me otherwise could change my mind.

I went off to college, I was complimented about my figure, I got over my angst and today I adore my brother. Yet I shudder a bit when I consider our day’s social environment and online world, where there is far too much cruelty.

3 comments on this story

Proverbs perhaps says it best, “Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing” (Proverbs 12:18, NIV).

Contrasting the dark ages of my youth with some of what I’m hearing today, I’ve tried to make a conscious effort to replace my sometimes less civil words with kinder words and words of affirmation — that uplift rather than tear down. This will in no way preclude joking, laughter or fun. Indeed, gentle and kind words, concern for others and frequent praise will, inevitably, increase our joy, lift our spirits and satisfy our souls.