I knew it was getting serious when he pulled out a golf club and said, “Don’t f--- with me!” Did I mention we were not on a golf course?
Let me back up.
I was 16 years old and my friend and I got into a verbal exchange with another guy. It started with taunting, grew to personal insults and finally into an all out shouting match. His pulling out a golf club was simply the next logical step in the progression of our conflict. Physical violence is what happens when the violent force of words is not enough.
It’s possible that we are just beginning to see the start of that in our world today. The words, language, and rhetoric within politics and religion is growing in intensity all the time. Insults, name-calling, and unfounded accusation are normal and even expected.
When one side is called out for their language, they simply excuse themselves, pointing out that their opponent is doing the same thing. So it goes. But what happens when the force of the rhetoric reaches its limit? Violence.
In early August Wade Michael Page entered a Sikh gurudwara in Wisconsin, murdering six worshippers. As details of his life emerged it was stated that he embraced hate-filled ideas, words, music, and philosophy. His violence was simply a natural outworking of his hate-filled words. They had reached their limit.
Page’s insidious actions made sense when the public learned about his connection to white supremacist groups. Why? Because something inside us knows that at some point hateful words will escalate into something greater. While it’s easy to connect Page’s hate and violence, it is far more difficult to do that with our words.
In another extreme example, a judge in Texas is predicting civil war if President Barack Obama is reelected. He has stopped just short of calling for an armed resistance. This should not be a surprise. The hate-filled language spilling out of politicians, political pundits, and the media will at some point reach its limit too. When it does, violence will inevitably follow.
It is easy to dismiss stories like these, and tell ourselves that we are not like them. But if we are using hateful rhetoric and tearing others down with our words we are much closer than we may like to admit.
We are not exempt from the reality of violence. Perhaps it would do us all well to stop and consider our words. Not only the ones we speak or the ones we post on Facebook or the one we tweet — but also the words we hear on the radio, absorb through television, and read in news sources.
How many of them are laced with hate and division?
In responding to this question we may soon realize that it seems that we have lost the ability to disagree or critique with any measure of dignity whatsoever. We are an angry, hostile people — this only points to our fear. And what do fearful people do? Typically one of two things: 1. Fight. 2. Flight.
Are we willing to choose a third, higher way?
We need to take our words seriously. We cannot use words of hatred and division believing there will be no consequences. We cannot fail to see that any language promoting hatred always has violence lying just behind the words.
Photo: Angry man screaming, olly / Shutterstock.com