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  • Writer's pictureTami Cinquemani

Hand Grenades on the Playground

“Anything worth doing is worth doing well.”

“Be punctual.”

“Clean your plate.”

“Look both ways before crossing the street.”

“Don’t cross your eyes or they’ll stay that way.”

These are just a few of the numerous life commandments my parents shared with me. Some I have embraced . . . others I have not. However, one that comes back to me with great regularity is “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”

I find myself dwelling on this particular piece of advice every time I watch the news, open my social media accounts, or read comments on a blog. I hear my parents’ words as my fingers are poised over my keyboard, ready to share a youtube link or comment on a friend’s post. And their counsel comes to mind as I scan the ugliness that has become accepted as normal “conversation” online. “You have heard that our ancestors were told, ‘You must not murder. If you commit murder, you are subject to judgment.’ But I say, if you are even angry with someone, you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the court. And if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell.” Matthew 5:21-22 NLT

I think most people understand the harm done to relationships when people physically stand before each other and sling verbal abuse, but we seem to think it’s perfectly acceptable to do this randomly and with great abandon through the written word.

Individuals post and write things they would never consider presenting in a face-to-face conversation. Do we realize that we are insulting and bashing friends, family members, and/or others we barely know? Do I understand I am actually saying these things to my neighbor, my doctor, my racquetball partner, or the person sitting next to me in church? I don’t know about you, but I have “blocked” people from my platforms. I care about these people enough that I do not want to “un-friend” them, but I cannot continue to read the things they post because I know it damages, and may eventually destroy, the relationship I desire to have with them.

But isn’t my opinion on this subject or my response to that blog something that needs to be known? Isn’t the world richer because I have shared my great insight and wisdom on this topic? Um . . . no, not really. I have to be honest with myself – my interest isn’t for the betterment of my world – it’s a prideful and arrogant soap-box opportunity. I don’t know about you, but when I am insulted by someone, my opinion is not changed – quite the opposite, actually. Where kindness and understanding may be gently persuasive, this type of assault only serves to alienate and divide. This is not civil conversation. This is the careless lobbing of verbal hand grenades that haphazardly injure feelings and kill relationships. Might this also, in effect, be obliterating what Jesus considered to be the full meaning of God’s law?

I write this with conviction that I have been a perpetrator of this crime. I have injured and alienated with my words. I have caused distress and even lost friendships because of my self-inflating and opinionated diatribes. As someone who treasures the written word, I don’t believe this means we shouldn’t share our thoughts and ideas with others. However, through the pain I have both caused and experienced because of past carelessness, I have learned that – whether the topic is religion, politics, or life in general – words of inclusion, grace, tolerance, and open-mindedness are a much better path to take. I like to think that any comment I make now will be well received and understood to build up rather than tear down by those on both sides of whatever topic is being discussed.

I’m afraid social media platforms have become the new “children’s” playground where our comments, posts, and “likes” are the new “So there!” “Nah-Nah!” and “My daddy can beat up your daddy!”

“If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” For children and adults. On the playground and on the Internet. Wise and timeless advice.

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