The thoughtless words feel like someone sneezed on my soul. Have you ever stared at your phone or computer screen in shock? Or wished you could take back something you expressed in a moment of frustration?
Social distancing + social media doesn’t always bring out the best in us. Researchers have discovered many factors involved in this, including a sense of anonymity and the lack of eye contact. It’s easier to yell at someone when we’re typing than when we’re talking across a dinner table.
Yet unkindness is a health risk too. Psychology Today reported, “Rudeness is almost like a neurotoxin, a poisonous substance that negatively affects our nervous system. As such, it affects the way we think, act, and feel. It affects our executive functions and has a direct relationship with our brain health.”
The Apostle James said something similar thousands of years ago when he warned our words can be, “full of deadly poison” (3:8). So how do we protect ourselves from what we’re exposed to each day? And how do we make sure we aren’t adding to the emotional toxicity?
James goes on to say, “The wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and the fruit of good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere.” I recently realized this passage gives us a helpful checklist.
7 Questions that Will Protect All of Us from Toxic Words
(based on James 3:17-18)
Are these words…
1. Pure? Check the motive.
2. Peace loving? Healthy conflict is okay, harming others is not.
3. Gentle at all times? The opposite of oppression.
4. Yielding to others? Humility and service, not pride or control.
5. Full of mercy? No room for judgmental attitudes.
6. Free of favoritism? Favoritism = seeing one perspective instead of seeking to understand.
7. Sincere? It is not enough to be honest, we’re also called to be kind.
If someone’s words don’t pass this checklist, guard your heart and limit your exposure. And if you’re tempted to express words that don’t align with this list, hold back until you’re in a healthier place. This isn’t about staying silent; it’s about preparing to boldly speak the truth in love.
We may not work at a hospital but we’re in contact with hurting people every day, especially on social media. May we never underestimate the harm we can cause or the difference we can make.
Yes, words can be deadly poison. They can also be powerful medicine. “The words of the wise bring healing” (Proverbs 12:18).
– Holley Gerth
– The image above is available here as a (free) PDF that you can download and print.
– This week’s More than Small Talk podcast episode is New Normal. Suzie, Jennifer, and I talk about adapting to the changes we’re all experiencing, what we want to leave behind, how we can move forward, and why a little kindness makes a big difference right now.