Have you ever had the experience of blithely saying something and then, as the words left your lips, instantly regretting them and wishing you could take them back? Unless you’ve been obeying a vow of silence for years, I know the answer. We’ve all had intense remorse over something that would have been better unsaid. It just happened again to me.
I appeared on the Glenn Beck television show this past Friday. Among many other questions, he asked how I relate to atheists. On the spot, I referred to atheists as parasites. Needless to say, I instantly knew that what I meant wasn’t going to be what people heard. But with the rapid tempo of television, we were already on the next topic with no opportunity to elaborate or retract.
With one word, I casually insulted who knows how many potential friends who were now gone forever. Men and women who pay their taxes, serve in the military, and support their communities were instantly dismissed as parasites. In retrospect, there are so many true, good and kind words I could have said. Instead, I stung.
In almost every interaction, we each have the opportunity to use words that soothe and sweeten. We can say things that build connections and nurture relationships. By being careless, literally by not caring enough, we can so easily use words that stab and sting.
Hebrew emphasizes this dual nature of words, their ability to sweeten or sting by using one word for both ‘bees’ and ‘word’: DeVaRiM – words and DeVoRiM – bees. In Hebrew Scripture vowels do not appear, so though the words are pronounced slightly differently, they are exactly the same.
In fact, the Hebrew name for the fifth of the Five Books of Moses, Deuteronomy, is actually Words, from its opening verse –“These are the words which Moses spoke to all Israel…..”
At the end of Deuternonomy’s first chapter, we find the word DeVaRiM or bees used:
And the Emorites who live in the mountains came out
to confront you and they chased you as bees do…
By employing exactly the same word for bees and words, the Lord’s language teaches us that just as bees can both sweeten with their honey and sting with their barbs, so words can do exactly the same thing.
Though I am not excusing my mistake, what was I thinking? I was remembering the following words from the sermon given by Reverend George Docherty in February, 1954.
"This age has thrown up a new kind of man-we call him a ‘secular’. He does not believe in God, not because he is a wicked man but because he is dialectically honest… These men, and many I have known, are fine in character and in their obligations as citizens and good neighbors, quite excellent. But they really are ‘spiritual parasites’ and I mean no term of abuse in this. I’m simply classifying them…These excellent ethical seculars are living upon the accumulated spiritual capital of Judeo-Christian civilization and at the same time, deny the God who revealed the divine principles upon which the ethics of this country grow…"
These words, which persuaded President Eisenhower to add the words “Under God” to America’s Pledge of Allegiance, echoed in my mind, but trying to convey them in a 10 second television sound bite was not a good idea. All I did was hurt people and jeopardize relationships.
Success in both life and business comes from relationships and being careful about words is a vital part of nurturing relationships. It takes deliberate and purposeful practice to monitor the words we use; in this case I failed.