I Did Not Want to Repeat that Bad Word…
“Our unruly tongues can sure get us into a lot of trouble. I know mine has. The apostle James reminded us, ‘Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be’ (James 3:10). James was right, we should not allow the same tongue that speaks flowery language of beauty to those we love, spew evil when tempers flare. What we communicate by word and deed is a reflection of who we are. If our language and actions do not reflect who we want to be, we ought to make it of highest priority to correct the same. Let there never come the day, when the message we convey, in action or communication, ever us bring shame.”Daniel Joseph Malcolm, 25 November 2023
For many years I served as a Communications Merit Badge counselor for Boy Scouts of America. In that responsibility I dedicated much time to teaching young men the importance of recognizing that we are constantly engaged in communications. Whether we see ourselves as active or passive participants, during every waking hour we are engaged in some level of communications. It is not just what we say or write that we are communicating. Every expression, gesture, smile or groan is an exchange of information on what we are thinking or how we are feeling, and can be read by even the least interested observer.
Imagine all the damage that is done by a simple glance of disdain, an untimely nod of the head or grimace, or a look away to one’s phone or watch when someone is trying to communicate what they feel is important. Now if that is not revealing too much about how we think or feel, how about when we take to emailing, messaging, whispering or even ranting in vulnerable ears things that we would never say in front of people whose respect we desire? Would we say, write or even facially express such a thing if ________________ (fill in the blank) were present?
When I was in the second grade at Baird Elementary School I learned a big lesson about saying inappropriate things, and having to take responsibility for them. I was with a classmate out on the playground, who came up behind me and locked his arm around my neck. I was feeling like I was choking. In my anxiousness I blurted out toward him a very derogatory term. I do not remember if he tattled on me, it was someone else, or a yard duty teacher overheard, but next thing I knew I was sitting in the office waiting to see the school’s principal. I was pretty scared.
I had been in that office more than once, so I knew some of the disciplinary tactics of our principal. Up to that point, the punishment I disliked the most was standing at the edge of her desk hitting my own hand with a hardwood spoon, while she demanded, “Harder, harder!” Remember, this was 1971-72, and things were a bit weird, but true nonetheless. Perhaps I remember it worse than it was, but still relieved when the next year a new principal was assigned.
On this day, the day of my use of a derogatory term towards another student, I was punished in a way I disliked even more than the previous methods, but it was most memorable and effective.
While I was sitting in the outer office, awaiting my next horrific encounter, two gentlemen entered the office and sat down with me. They were dressed in suits with ties. They appeared to be very professional, or perhaps like church men. I have since assumed that they were probably district administrators. All I know for sure is that they were very kind to me. They took an interest in me, asking me about my family, my interests, and making me feel like a young gentleman myself. I really appreciated the attention they paid me and looked up to those two kind men. Eventually they entered the principal’s office, and I once again was sitting alone waiting.
After a time I was called in, and to my surprise, the nice men were still present. While I stood before the principal’s desk, these two respectable men sitting aside, I was asked by the principal to tell these good men what I had called my classmate on the playground.
I was horrified. I did not want to repeat that bad word in front of such proper gentlemen. I asked that I could be excused from doing so. I was very apologetic, but I did not want to do this. She insisted.
I started to describe the term without actually saying it, my eyes lowered to the ground and feeling filled with shame. I did not want these men to know I would say such a thing. She once again demanded that I say it to them. I pleaded with her not to make me, but having any innocent dignity I had left stripped from me, I went ahead and said the awful word. I was so ashamed. I could not look in the eyes of the men, nor did they respond in any manner. I do not remember much more after that. She did not make me swat myself (I wish she had), nor punished me in any other way. The price of this wrong was my utter humiliation and shame, and I felt it with me for a long time. I would not choose to punish someone in that fashion, but it was effective, and I have never forgotten it.
Sometimes I read in texts or emails things that are never spoken from the mouth of the writer, or I hear a coarseness of language in public that is not normally spoken when we are in the Lord’s house, or in the presence of ladies or small children. Yes, it is true, we all try to be on our best communications behavior at given times, but more effort is required if we are going to represent the Lord Jesus Christ in all places and at all times.
The apostle Peter taught, “But as He which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:15-16).
Of course, there are vulgarities that our best not spoken, but more concerning is the manner in which we communicate one with another, whether we regard or disregard the feelings of others. Are we name callers or respecters of others? Are we harsh and unkind in the manner of our communications, or are we civil and thoughtful? Do we look for flaws in others and seek to point them out, or do we show kind regard for each other as we would if we had to repeat those things in front of someone for whom we have or desire respect?
We must elevate our discourse whether by text, email, tweet, post, letter, voice, facial expression or body language. The apostle Peter by word and example taught us that we should “…greatly rejoice,…” (1 Peter 1:6) even in trial. As representatives of the Savior, this rejoicing should be apparent in all our communications, for as followers of Christ we have great cause for rejoicing. We are purveyors of the Good News, the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
As President Russell M. Nelson has taught, “Saints can be happy under every circumstance. …When the focus of our lives is on God’s plan of salvation… and Jesus Christ and His gospel, we can feel joy regardless of what is happening —or not happening —in our lives. Joy comes from and because of Him. He is the source of all joy” (General Conference, October 2016).
More than 20 years ago I was outside of my home, working with a friend of mine, Steve Schulkins. I spent a lot of time ministering to my friend Steve, always trying to set a good example for him. I do not remember the exact circumstances, but what I do remember is that a sledgehammer came down upon my hand, and I felt excruciating pain. In that moment, I groaned, but not a word left my mouth. Steve looked at me in wondering awe and exclaimed, “You really don’t swear!”
The manners of my language and communications are not perfect, they are far from it. Nevertheless, on that day I rejoiced for something I had learned long before, and to this day still strive to uphold, not to say things that I would be ashamed of repeating in front of someone I love and respect.
Let us be people of joy and rejoicing. Let us reflect the countenance of our Savior in our body language and expression. Let us echo His words of love and peace in our own mouths and by our own hands. Let our conversations and communications rise above the dregs and be holy, even as He is holy, sustaining goodness with listening ears, welcoming hearts, smiles of love, and cheers of support. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.