Many of us will have grown up with the saying, "If you can't say something nice about a person, then don't say anything at all." Why does it no longer appear to apply in today's culture? Have people ceased to care about the impact their lack of charity has on others? It seems we can accuse, spread rumours and criticise with impunity, regardless of the reputations that are ruined as a result.
I used to read newspapers from cover to cover but now, on the rare occasions I buy one, I tend to just skim through the pages as very little of the content appears accurate, and it's mostly embellished by journalistic licence because 'ordinary' does not sell. The same goes for some TV or radio programmes for much the same reason – truth does not boost audience ratings.
I saw the following recently: "Before you speak – THINK: Is it true? Is it helpful? Is it inspiring? Is it necessary? Is it kind?" Social media is, unfortunately, also proving to lack those qualities and its anonymity provides unbalanced and unscrupulous individuals with an online platform to abuse their unfortunate prey.
It often seems internet companies and the police are waging an uphill battle against trolls and bullies, and the issue is nowhere near to being adequately addressed. If only there were the available resources and, more especially, the corporate will to control the cruelty that marks some people's offerings to the world.
In our get-rich-quick society, which loses sight of the beauty of God and the human person as God's creation, there is a tendency to purvey a diet of gossip, lies and scandal. Celebrities, politicians and other public figures are under constant scrutiny, especially if there is a skeleton – or two – to be pulled from the cupboard. As a result we are now suffering from a negativity overload.
Speech is one of the hardest areas of our lives to control, and the Scriptures emphasise the importance of being careful about how we speak about others. The people of Biblical times obviously had their own problems in 'holding their tongues'. We are told that if we can control our speech, we can control every part of ourselves (James 3: 2); that Christians must "speak evil of no one" (Titus 3: 2); and to lay aside "all evil speaking" (1 Peter 2: 1).
Jesus was probably on the receiving end of gossip and criticism on many more occasions than the Gospels record – and it would have hurt Him Words are extremely powerful and have the ability to build or destroy. We have all said things we have regretted and, hopefully, learned from our failure to respect fully the person we've spoken against. Words cannot be unsaid or unread or unheard. Even when they are forgiven, they are usually not forgotten, because memories are memories and our brains don't come supplied with built-in erasers.
Over Christmas, we heard how Almighty God's Word "became flesh and lived among us". Today our challenge is to use our human words to make the Divine Word living, human, alive and active in our own little world. Consider it a wonderful opportunity for 2017: to allow God to fill our words and for each word to be an "I love you" to everybody we meet.