The Forgotten Weight of Words

Written by Ann Burns

June 8, 2022

When the Villains are Beautiful

One meme that struck my funny bone read something like, “social media may never have made the lame walk, but it has allowed the dumb to speak.” The aim was to generate laughs like most memes, but the satirical element makes it memorable. We’ve all encountered some eye-roll-worthy content on the internet. And maybe we are even guilty of contributing to some of it. Who hasn’t posted something in haste and only felt regret afterward?

The issue with social media is that it is social

but we often forget this as we share far too intimate or crass content with numerous individuals.

We’ve all received our soap boxes through online platforms to use however we please. Once upon a time, you had to be the crème-de-la-crème to get notoriety, but now, if you can lip-sync a scene from your favorite movie, you may go viral. Seconds after hearing some news story, people rush to their platforms to explain what is going on or how to respond appropriately. These actions don’t require natural talent or thought, just access to the internet.

When we communicate, we must do just that: communicate.

To speak intentionally and truthfully, exercising prudence and modesty. We need to shoulder the responsibility that our words hold weight; what we say and how we say it is not a careless issue.

“But I say unto you that every idle word that men shall speak, they shall render an account for it in the day of judgment.” Matthew 12:36

If we turn to St. Thomas Aquinas, he states that language is an external tool to communicate Truth. And as an external, it is governed by modesty. Modesty is “the virtue that moderates all the internal and external movements and appearance of a person according to his or her endowments, possessions, and station in life.” Modesty is an “integral part of temperance.” CCC 2521. Temperance must imbue our language.

Language is a gift and a tool, and just like any gift or device, it can be abused or taken for granted.

Language is a massive topic because, according to Aquinas’ definition, we must have an understanding of Truth. Not your truth, Bob’s truth, or the TV News’ truth, but rather capital T—Truth; Truth found in Christ.

Conversely, many utilize this gift to express one’s every changing emotion, gossip, overshare, pry, manipulate, and ultimately, damage. Disregarding modesty and temperance, but waving under the false flag of authenticity, aka unbridled emotions.

This faux authenticity is a particularly harmful perspective since ungoverned emotions are not virtues, even though modernity treats them as such. Modernity insists that disordered emotion should be our understanding of “truth” because it’s what we feel. This belief dismisses the fact that such emotions are the most changeable things in the world.

We must have a healthy understanding of emotions. Our intellect should govern our emotions. As the Catechism affirms, “passions are neither good nor evil . . . they are morally qualified only to the extent that they effectively engage reason and will.” CCC 1767 What we choose to do with our emotions is where we step into moral territory. For this reason, we need to stand guard against the hyper-emotionalism of today. When we let our emotions take charge, we allow our reason and will to go on holiday. While many justify this as “being genuine” or “speaking one’s truth,” it’s a self-insult to our God-giving dignity and call to sanctity to state that our worst and most unreasonable qualities get to the core of who we are.

Instead, we need to utilize the lost art of discernment.

Discernment is exercising prudential judgment. It’s the ability to distinguish what is wise and prudent from foolhardy things. It’s a lost art because many are so quick to respond and react. We live in a constant flow of information, where emotions reign supreme; that atmosphere suffocates discernment because it allows no time for pausing and thoughtfulness. Instead, we give credence to our initial emotional response, act, and fail to think. This kind of thoughtlessness is one of the usual suspects regarding rude or condescending content, misleading information, manipulative speech, and so forth.

Instead, we should question our emotions. It’s not that we need to squash them, but rather that we must understand how to best wield these neutral tools. We can start by asking basic questions: Why do I feel this way? Is it valid? How can I appropriately process this emotion to move forward productively?

Our speech ability to speak well and truthfully crumbles when we let down the boundaries governing our emotions.

Our language should be worthy of who we are as individuals made in the image and likeness of God.

Our language should respect that dignity in those around us, fortifying us against gossip, emotional manipulation, and vulgarity.

We grow in strength when we gain control of our language, choosing not to say everything that pops into our craniums, eliminating vulgarity, or sharing thoughtless content. Strength of mind and strength of character because we implement thoughtfulness into our speech, remembering that our words hold weight and we need to shoulder that as a holy responsibility.

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