Cruel Words

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Kristine Frederickson

After directing cutting or cruel remarks toward another have you ever heard the speaker defend their words by stating, "I was just telling the truth," or "Someone needs to tell him/her what I just did," or when the look of shock, betrayal, and sometimes the tears come, "Just get over it. You need to stop being so thin-skinned."

It is one thing to live in communities where language is becoming increasingly ill-mannered and uncivil. However, to rationalize, defend, and promote such talk plunges civility even further into the gutter. Such thinking creates a state where good manners are undervalued or ignored and bad manners are portrayed as right and reinforced.

Unfortunately cruel words are becoming all too common in today's world and few of us are immune as we are increasingly exposed to vicious, uncivil language in movies, books, magazines, and on television. We hear mean words in schools, restaurants, malls — in most public places — and as we listen to politicians and pundits. Indeed, some individuals seem to glory in being tactless and insensitive.

In a world where standards of decency are increasingly obscured, what is the Lord's benchmark regarding interpersonal communication? The Savior warned, "every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment." What qualifies as "idle words"?

The Apostle Paul cautioned the Saints at Ephesus, "Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good." Words directed to another are to be "good." Paul elaborates on the meaning of good, "Be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted."

Elder L. Lionel Kendrick warns against the "un-Christlike communication" of "criticizing," and distinguishes between "negative" and "positive criticism."

Positive criticism is that which is "given with the purpose of helping another person to grow and to develop. This is both helpful and needful and is generally accepted and appreciated. Negative criticism is intended to hurt and often to defame or destroy. This caustic communication is cruel, and it tends to crush the character of all [to] whom it is directed."

Elder Kendrick provides some descriptors that allow us to distinguish and to consider the form of communication in which we engage:

"communication expressed in tones of love rather than loudness"

"intended to be helpful rather than hurtful"

"tends to bind us together rather than drive us apart"

"build[s] rather than belittle[s]"

"expressions of affection and not anger"

"compassion and not contention"

"respect and not ridicule"

"counsel and not criticism"

"correction and not condemnation"

The fundamental key as Elder Kendrick suggests is "to condition our hearts to have Christlike feelings for all of Heavenly Father's children. When we develop this concern for the condition of others, we then will communicate with them as the Savior would."

President Hinckley shared an account of one who epitomized civility and Christlike love in both word and deed. He recounted the time when President Heber J. Grant became seriously ill in old age and was visited by his private secretary, Joseph Anderson of the Seventy:

"President Grant said, 'Joseph, have I ever been unkind to you? Have I ever abused you in any way?'

"Joseph said, 'No, President Grant, you have never been unkind to me in all these many years.'

"Tears rolled down President Grant's cheeks, and he said, 'Joseph, I am glad that you can say that I have never been unkind to you.'

"President Grant died the next day. Joseph Anderson, through the remainder of his life, had reason to rejoice in the kindness, the civility, the decency, the honesty, and the integrity on the part of a most remarkable and wonderful man — President Heber J. Grant.'"

Perhaps there are few of us that can say we have met this standard. However all of us can say that we will strive to do so in the future and then we can do so by making a conscious effort to reject the worldly model that is constantly before us and instead hold as our exemplars the models of President Grant and the Savior Jesus Christ.

Deseret News: Published May 3, 2009 in the Faith Section