Words Kill People

It was fifth grade and I was the new kid at school. I was sitting about three rows back and a girl in the front turned and looked in my direction.

“Do you hear that?” she said. Not sure if she was talking to me, I shook my head confused. Looking in my eyes, she smiled. “I think I hear a Twinkie calling your name.”

The class erupted, and she just turned around like nothing happened. I sat there horrified for the rest of the day. Another time, she asked if I had been outside with my shirt off recently. “My Mom and I were driving the other day and I thought I saw you. It was disgusting to look at,” she said.

“Not me,” I told her. I was lying. I knew exactly what she was talking about.

She wasn’t the only one to tease me. Several people wanted a piece of the fat kid in class. I remember begging my mom to let me stay home from school. “You’re not fat, Son,” she would tell me, honestly believing it. But I knew better. They were right, and I was a mess.

I changed schools my sixth grade year, becoming the new kid once again. This is a terrifying experience for anyone, but all I could think was, “Am I gonna be the fat kid here too?”

I was, and people quickly began reminding me, in case I had forgotten. I learned something that year. I’d like to say it was to ignore the teasing or to pray for my enemies. Nope.

I learned how to flip an insult, to turn the gun around and aim it at the shooter. I learned that the trick was to be funnier than the person who cracked the joke. I figured how to make a guy’s mother uglier than he said mine was, and fatter too.

I learned that if I could make people laugh with me they would no longer laugh at me. And it worked. I became the funny guy, the one who caused the class to roar with laughter.

But I also became the same jerk that used to send me home in tears. What started as a defense mechanism quickly became an automatic weapon, and I was the monster holding down the trigger. No one was safe.

I hurt people. I will never fully know the damage I have caused over the years, how many tears have been shed over my words.

This is not a plea for sympathy. I take responsibility for my actions, and though I have changed drastically, I know this is still a struggle. But, by God’s grace, I have built friendships with some of the people I offended, and pray for more restoration opportunities.

I know firsthand the destructive power of words, both as the victim and the villain. I’m tired of reading stories like this one about a 13-year-old boy who shot himself in his middle school hallway because people picked on him.

His face won’t leave my mind. I can’t stop thinking about the girl hunched over her toilet, trying to purge herself of the weight that always seems to be fodder for classroom discussion, or the boy who isn’t quite masculine enough for the rest of the guys.

The kid whose clothes don’t fit this year’s fashion criteria, or whose skin color doesn’t match the others.

Words kill people from the inside out. I know this, and I still can’t seem to watch my mouth most days. I hate it.

but no one can tame the tongue. It is restless and evil, full of deadly poison. James 3:8

But we can do something. By looking to the very one who spoke our lives into existence we can choose to speak life into others. The same tongue that wounds can also heal and encourage.

Words have the power to push people to the ledge or to pull them back to safety. Choose them wisely.

Feel free to share your story in the comments section below.

Photo Credit: Kaitlyn Kalon (Creative Commons)

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