An Encouraging Word — Words can hurt and heal

With the tongue we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. James 39-10

Father J. Ronald Knott
Father J. Ronald Knott

When I was a kid, to try to deflect the pain, we used to chant, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me!”

Well, that was a big fat lie!

Cruel nicknames hurt like hell when you are a kid. I guess one of the best parts of growing up is to be able to look back on some of that and laugh.

A while back, I sat down with a pen and pencil and wrote down all the names that I have been called to see if they still “hurt me.”

When I was in grade school, I was so “skinny” that I was referred to more than once as a “runt.” A “runt” was the name for a baby pig that was too small to nurse and usually died from starvation. While I still do not think that is funny, I would love to be called “skinny” again.

As I was making my list, what surprised me was that most of the hurtful “names” did not start until I left home for the seminary.

My ears seemed a bit oversized when I was a 90 pound 14 year old seminarian, which prompted some of the other seminarians to repeat endlessly that I looked like a “taxi driving down the street with both doors open.” I guess even that is quite funny, if you are not the target!

As a high school student, attending high school in Louisville, I was regularly called a “hillbilly,” “hick” and “redneck,” as were all of us born outside Jefferson County. I was mortified back then, but now I am very proud of my country roots. There are some seminarians from the deep south at St. Meinrad Seminary. We love to get together and talk “country” in front of the “city slickers” and laugh our heads off at ourselves.

Father White, rector of St. Thomas Seminary, called me a “hopeless case” when I was a sophomore high school seminarian and a “ball and chain around his leg for six years” as a sophomore college seminarian. Too bad he couldn’t hear what I called him under my breath.

Our words have power to hurt and heal, build up or tear down, comfort or curse. More often than not, it is not the outright verbal attacks that we are most often guilty of, but the little “cuts and jabs,” the sarcasms and put-downs that we carelessly throw around.

Sometimes, we even excuse our destructive words with high-sounding phrases like, “I was just being brutally honest.” Most folks who brag about being brutally honest enjoy the brutality more than the honesty.

First, we must first stop using words to tear others down. Then we must start using words to build others up.

Father J. Ronald Knott

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