The Tongue Has the Power Of Life and Death:Proverbs 18:21

Over 4 decades ago Dr.Thomas and I published a brief article discussing the relationship between social inequity and emotional sickness.(Claudewell S. Thomas,Jacob J. Lindenthal,”The Depression of the Opressed,”Mental Health 1975: 13-4.The suggestion was offered that,”…in an attempt to assuage the pain of depression ( the victim) may narcotize himself with drugs and alcohol, or fantasize great gainsa at dice.” The authors went on to suggest that, “these behaviors are self-defeating and further aggravate the already existing depression…they feed into the stereotype the dominant culture has of him,namely,as a spaced out, drunken, irresponsible and shiftless human being. In desperation the minority person often resorts to violence against another.

Gains made over these many decades,including the proscription for pejorative language employed presumably by members of the dominant ethnic group.S.I.Hayakawa’s theory of the role of language in determining behavior.(Hayakawa,S.I.Language in Thought and Action.Enlarged ed.San DiegoL Harcourt Brace Jojanovich 1978) calls attention to the twinning potential of language in the promotion of both social conflict as well as cohesion.We have oceans to go when consideration is given to a disturbing trend involving the use of pejorative language,a form of violence in referring to one another among minority youths. This is a negativity to be excoriated by everyone who recognizes that “stcks and stones may hurt my bones ,but names will ALWAYS hurt me_and everyone else.”




  1. We have two ears and one tongue. Maybe there is a major reason for this. Perhaps we should do twice as much listening as talking. If we really listen carefully to someone and hear their pain ….we then perhaps can understand what our tongue and the right words can do to comfort. Words can indeed be very helpful.

  2. I wish to make a correction to the above comment: I stated that Daedal was the source of the statement, “names will ALWAYS hurt me and everyone else”. JJL was the author.
    Don Spencer

  3. Agreed – Pejorative language is a form of violence. As with any form of violence, those who wish to conquer it must learn to deflect it and/or defeat it. Such learning can be considered a form of strength. If not learned, one remains in a state of weakness. We can excoriate those who instigate this form of violence – and, we can strengthen minds to rise above (and see as hollow) such verbal assaults. Daedal is wrong about his statement that “names will ALWAYS hurt me and everyone else”. We can learn to dismiss the inappropriate rantings of ignorance. Also, if we focus mainly on the ills of the speaker and ignore the potential growth of the listener there is a risk that we will diminish within our society the extraordinary benefits of freely exchanged opinion.
    We see again another downside to our human inclination to identify too strongly with groups or tribes. My or your “minority status” does not have to be a thing that needs defending or needs to take offense when one describes himself first as a member of the one and only human race.
    Don Spencer

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