Sticks and Stones
Do our words matter? As a youngster, I recall the adage: sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me. I don’t know where I first heard it, but I’m sure that somewhere along the path a well-meaning individual encouraged me to use it as a pithy reply to someone hurling insults towards me. And I’m certain that I probably did recite it once or twice on the playground in an attempt to cover my hurt feelings. But the truth is sometimes words can and do hurt.
A few days ago, a Massachusetts judge found 20-year old Michelle Carter guilty of involuntary manslaughter in the 2014 death of her boyfriend. Juvenile Court Judge Lawrence Moniz found that Carter had displayed “wanton and reckless conduct” that led to the death of her then-18-year-old boyfriend Conrad Roy III.
She didn’t give him drugs and she wasn’t behind the wheel of an out-of-control car that crashed into his vehicle. What she did do was encourage him by way of dozens of text messages to follow through with a plan that he apparently had previously shared with her. A plan to take his own life.
I am stunned by the idea that two young adults were texting messages of this nature back and forth. And further stunned by the thought that this young woman didn’t feel compelled to call his parents, call the police, call anyone. Not only did she not try to stop him, she encouraged him. How does something like that happen. What happened in his life and in hers that together they agreed that suicide was the only answer. In his ruling Moniz added: “Where one’s action creates a life-threatening risk to another there is a duty to take reasonable steps to alleviate the risk.”
As a communications professional, I believe that words do matter. What we say, how we say it and when we say it are all vital to our daily communications with one another. But in today’s world of electronic communications there’s yet another dynamic at play as well. In the last three decades technology has completely changed the way we communicate and more significantly it has redefined the way we build and maintain relationships with our colleagues, family and friends. The prevalent use of devices which allow us to communicate intimately, without being face-to-face, seems to have removed a layer of consciousness from our dialogue with one another. The fact that we can’t see the reaction on someone’s face or hear the tone of their voice shift, deprives us of the ability to respond appropriately.
Much in the same way, social media seems to enable people to post ugly, rude, tasteless comments that do hurt people. But why? What has happened to us as a society that causes anyone to think that it’s okay to demean someone on Facebook for their views, beliefs or practices.
As a person of faith, I do not believe that it’s my right or my responsibility to judge others. But I do believe that it is our responsibility to help someone in need if we are able. In the 22nd chapter of Matthew, Jesus was asked “which is the greatest commandment.” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ We are to love God from the top of our heads to the bottom of our toes. But we cannot claim to love God and not love others.