I think most people right now are fed up with the negative political ads polluting the media. Those ads that attack a competitor personally are the most offensive. We have an innate sense that this is wrong. Maybe the name callers and slanderers should watch the movie Bambi again. In it Thumper quotes his mother: “If you can’t say anything nice about a person, don’t say nothing at all.” Yes, the word is mightier than the sword . . . and words can cut another person’s reputation into shreds.
Politicians aren’t the only ones who wreak harm by pointing out another person’s faults (or perceived faults!) Probably each of us has been guilty of this at some time, or at least tempted. Otherwise we wouldn’t find such strong cautionary words in the Bible about the dangers of the tongue. There we read, “The tongue is a fire” which “is itself set on fire by hell” (James 3:6) and, “Do not speak evil against one another” (James 4:11).
What we say about another person affects our listeners for good or ill. It forms an impression of the person spoke of that may be difficult to dispel. And that impression may be incorrect. Badmouthing a person has no good consequences. When I was preparing to teach, I was told not to listen to a class’s previous teacher who made comments like, “This class is nothing but trouble.” Perhaps that teacher had a problem, and the class would turn out to be a dream class for me. I also remember when a Jewish editor was terrified to call me with a question. (He wanted to know how to spell Poor Souls!) Someone at the publishing company had described me as a witch, which I don’t think I am. Speaking ill of someone has another unwelcome effect. It leaves the listeners wondering what the speaker says about them behind their backs.
Why do some people speak of other’s faults? Not only to win elections. Maybe seeing faults in others makes us look better, as though we had no faults. If someone sins or has a glaring fault, because we are all one, it makes all of us a little less. Then rather than talk about the flaw, we should feel bad about it, keep still, and recall St. Francis’s words when he saw a sinner: “There for the grace of God go I.” And as someone said, “If you can’t say anything nice about a person, try harder to find something nice.”
What are your thoughts on these “uglies”— slander, gossip, badmouthing, and the like?