IT seems that more and more, everything around us reflects coarse, abusive speech. Expletives are the order of the day with everyone from little children to adults screaming them out at the slightest provocation. Curses are no longer quite so sacred and friends greet each other with abusive speech. Rude, arrogant speech is taken for frankness and in a world that is constantly changing, it seems uplifting speech is gradually decreasing. A couple of years ago, most movies were family friendly and movies that glorify sex and violence were viewed as detestable but even that is changing. The biggest blockbuster movies are those that contain strong language, expletives and violence and glorify sex. In fact, it seems that if you want your kids not to be in contact with such speech you would have to abandon TV completely. There are studies that suggest that saying exactly what you think including when you are very angry enough to say hurtful things is good for your health! But is that really true?
A couple of days ago, I was out distributing Christian magazines to neighbours and this young man passed by me. I was unable to approach him because he was making a call but what struck me most was that I really did not notice him until he screamed out an expletive because he forgot something at home and I was forced to notice. It occurred to me right there and then that not so long ago, Nigerians were not really familiar with expletives; in fact, we did not know what they meant. It is a foreign culture that we seem to have imbibed. It reminded of my very first encounter with it. In secondary school, I was one of those who moved around a lot. In my senior secondary school year, I moved to a new school and in my first week of school, my classmates uttered so many expletives I was shocked. I told my dad when I got home back then that what I heard in one week of school was more than I ever heard throughout my life up to that point. I could not believe that people spoke that way. Years later, I realised that I did not experience that bolt of shock that I usually got whenever I heard an expletive uttered; in fact, it would seem that I have become used to it. And I fear that more and more, we are getting immune to the effects of derogatory speech.
The music industry is not any better with a wide array of songs containing lyrics that promote derogatory speech accompanied by heavy metal beats that promote violence and lead to hurtful actions. The so-called celebrities are not any better, and even the social media seems to make it worse with every platform urging us to share what we think at every moment without thoughtful consideration. Yet, when you give in to every whim, it becomes difficult to avoid hurting others since none of us is perfect.
The truth is that thoughts become actions, we are what we think. And what we think, we often speak. It is no wonder the Bible itself reminds us that out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. So speech is a very important part of who we are. The way we speak and the things we say reflect who we are on the inside and that affects our actions. Is it any wonder then that with the increase in derogatory hurtful speech there is also an increase in violence in the world?
A mild answer turns away rage. So positive speech reduces tension and contribute to a more peaceful environment. Think about it, do you know anyone who really does not curse? Think about the kind of person they are and how their speech makes you feel. No matter what people say, we would all rather be with someone who speaks positively and mildly rather than someone who is always ready to curse at us. They will be a source of refreshment and comfort for us; in fact, we would consider them wise. Why? Because it takes a greater level of self control and discipline to bridle the tongue than it is to simply say whatever you think even if it hurts others. That quality of discipline brings success as opposed to someone who does whatever they want. Success itself takes discipline and patience which can only be built with time and consideration. In effect, clean speech as rare as it seems is more beneficial.
I considered an article the other day that helped me reflect on how I can always make my speech clean and positive. It presented three questions to consider before speaking. First, is it wholesome? Whatever I want to say, will it be upbuilding to the other person or will it tear the other person down? Will it be a source of comfort to them? Second, is it true? Slander and gossip abound today and people often repeat rumours that they are not sure about. We must make sure that whatever we say is the truth, if not then we should probably refrain from saying it. Third, is it kind? So often we think that because we want to be truthful, we have to suspend kindness. No, even the strongest of reprimands can be given in a kind and loving manner if we consider the feelings of those we are speaking to. By considering these important qualities before speaking, you will be giving thoughtful consideration to what you say and that will lead to clean, upbuilding speech. That sort of speech is what leads to success and builds the entire society up.
- Wale-Olaitan is of the Faculty of Education, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Nigeria.