When I was growing up, my mom frequently told us kids when we argued, “Don’t use fighting words.” In our house “fighting words” included the words “never” and “always.” These polarizing and emotion-causing words were just simply not allowed.
“You never let me do anything” or “You think you’re always right” are frequently thrown around in most homes. This sort of rhetoric discourages civil discourse and dissuades peaceful resolution. My parents’ barring such “fighting words” encouraged us Jackson kids to use truth and facts instead of simply lashing out from our hurt feelings. This training provoked us to use logic instead of emotion. Admittedly, it did not come naturally or easily to any of us! However, this training was important as we all learned how to have civil discourse and disagreements without the language that leads to heated, angry exchanges. Simply put, we didn’t “do drama.”
Unfortunately, in our society at large and especially in politics, I read and hear a substantial amount of “fighting words.” Almost every news article is titled with “fighting words”, sometimes called “click bait,” and more often than not the entire article will be riddled with this divisive language. The usage of these intentionally divisive words and phrases creates a society continuously tossed about by its emotions and rarely built upon a foundation of truth. Indeed, it is hard to determine the facts when our feelings are continuously roused into a frenzy! Yes, “fighting words” may get more attention and “clicks,” but they seldom convey the truth, and they certainly do not produce solutions to our dilemmas.
“Fighting words” may also sound like “Libtards,” “Repugnican,” “Snowflake,” “Ok, Boomer,” “DEMONcrats,” “Trump Derangement Syndrome,” “racist,” “fascist,” “bigot,” “feminazi,” “patriarchal,” “liberal hack,” and the list goes on and on. What do these phrases achieve? Is our goal not to solve the border crisis, not to stop illegal drugs, not to prevent mass shootings, and not to preserve this little round globe upon which we reside? If indeed we do not care about these issues and a myriad of others, then by all means continue to “own the libs” or “shut down the commie cons.” Of course we all want solutions to these quandaries! Just put down the abrasive language for once and ask others if they care about these things, and you will find that yes, they do care. Almost everyone does! We just have different ideas for solutions.
Sometimes the road someone chooses to solve an issue is flat out wrong, sometimes it’s long-winded, and sometimes it’s the correct path. Ask yourself though, does our rhetoric bring people to the table in order to solve the issues at hand or drive them further away? Rarely is a crisis averted, countered, or solved by one man or woman, but by many rallying together behind a single idea or value. If our desire is to find solutions, ostracizing one another with useless, divisive language only hurts us all.
Proverbs 6:16-19 is a list of seven things the Lord hates. Number seven is “one who sows discord among brothers.” Is a verbal victory worth the hatred of God?! Titus 3:10 teaches us what to do about trolls, internet or otherwise, commanding us to warn a divisive person twice, and if they continue to cause division, we should have nothing to do with them. In other words, don’t be an internet troll and don’t feed the internet trolls. The moment we employ fighting words every good idea and kind sentiment that came before or afterwards are futile. You’re wasting your ideas, your time, and your breath, and you will one day find yourself surrounded by an echo chamber of equally divisive people who will in turn drive one another away.
Joseph Joubert said, “The purpose of argument is not victory, but progress.” Rhetoric such as ours wins no friends, achieves no moral high ground, and creates no solutions. Truly, we are on a merry-go-round of our own making with no end in sight to the perpetual spinning. We revel in the momentary victory of our verbal sparring while the ideas our great nation was founded on drain into the trash heap of history, while our families disintegrate, while our communities dissolve, and while our values dwindle into oblivion. Proverbs 26:11, “As a dog returns to his vomit, so a fool repeats his folly.” With each verbal jab we hurl, this merry-go-round spins on and on; surely, we must love the taste of our own vomit.
Hannah R. Miller
Host, The Hannah Miller Show