If only we would tame our tongues

Published 6:06 pm Wednesday, June 3, 2020

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By Rich Manieri

I stopped long ago reading comments under news articles and opinion pieces. Not because I don’t believe readers should have the opportunity to comment, but mostly because nothing about what is posted is helpful or constructive. In fact, much of it is nasty and vile.

For the same reason, I’m not on Twitter anymore. Not because I don’t recognize social media as a valuable tool for marketing or disseminating important information, but because it has become a forum for misinformation, slander and hate. And I know very well that I have it within me to become part of the problem.

How we speak to each other reveals much about ourselves. The Bible, as relevant on the topic today as it was 2000 years ago, contains dozens of verses about taming the tongue.

“It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person,” Jesus said, as he rebuked the Pharisees as recorded in Matthew’s gospel.

I thought a lot about that verse in the last few days as I watched the Twitter barbs fly. President Trump has been advancing debunked conspiracy theories about former Republican congressman and current MSNBC host Joe Scarborough. Trump continues to suggest, without any evidence whatsoever, that Scarborough might have had something to do with the death of a staffer who worked in his Florida congressional office in 2001.

Comedian Kathy Griffin tweeted on Wednesday that Trump should self-inject an air-filled syringe, which would “do the trick.”

Neither Trump nor Griffin has apologized. In fact, each has doubled down with Trump calling the staffer’s death a “cold case” (it was ruled an accident) and Griffin tweeting that she is well aware that an injection of air into the veins could be fatal.

Griffin’s profane, angry tweets are not unexpected, given that her stance as a Trump-hater is the only thing keeping her relevant on the national landscape. However, this president, any president, should be above spewing unfounded conspiracy theories about people he doesn’t like. Even conservative news outlets have taken Trump to task.

“Mr. Trump rightly denounces the lies spread about him in the Steele dossier, yet here he is trafficking in the same sort of trash,” wrote the Wall Street Journal editorial board.

And, in case you missed it, CNN’s Anderson Cooper and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called the president fat.

The issue of our current discourse, political and otherwise, goes well beyond the latest round of unfortunate tweets and comments.

What happened to civility and respect? Blaming the president is nothing more than a “He started it!” schoolyard argument. We’re all complicit, myself included. Twitter and other social media platforms aren’t so much forums to share what is on our minds as much as they are indications of what is lurking in our hearts.

I’m not wagging my finger at anyone. I receive a fair amount of angry emails and I will confess that my first inclination is to fire back a response that will get my adversary in checkmate. Victory, after all, is much more satisfying, at least for a while, than reconciliation.

In his book “Mere Christianity,” C.S. Lewis addresses this aspect of the human condition.
“If there are rats in the cellar you are most likely to see them if you go in very suddenly. But the suddenness does not create the rats: it only prevents them from hiding,” Lewis writes. “In the same way the suddenness of the provocation does not make me an ill-tempered man; it only shows me what an ill-tempered man I am.”

My first step toward becoming a Christian was to acknowledge my predicament — my own sinful nature. As Lewis points out, Christianity is not reading what Christ said and trying to carry it out. Rather, it is the total interference of Christ in your life which changes you from the inside out and makes obedience to God possible, not as a means to salvation but as evidence of it.

I say this in relation to discourse because whatever small role I might play in the conversation, my faith is what restrains me, and what keeps me from becoming part of the problem.

We hear a lot about the need for more kindness, compassion and empathy. Simply trying to be nicer to one another isn’t going to get us far.

For all of us, the real solution begins with admitting there’s a problem in the first place.

RICH MANIERI is a Philadelphia-born journalist and author. He is a professor of journalism at Asbury University in Kentucky. You can reach him at manieri2@gmail.com.