“You can tell more about someone, not by what others say about them, but by what they say about others.” This is one so worth repeating. As Francis Hodson Burnett said, “You learn things by saying them over and over and thinking about them until they stay in your mind forever.”

In our society of dichotomous opinions, it is so important to remember how we voice them. It is difficult to teach children respect when they are constantly exposed to the opposite by so many things seen or heard on television, social media, video games, the news, and even in the conversations overheard from the adults in their world. We have to stop now and then say, “Shame on us.” In this time of “openness,” we have lost sight of the little ears around who can be deeply affected by what they overhear coming from our mouths.

When I first started storytelling, one of the old Hebrew stories became a favorite. It seems there was a man who approached a rabbi and said that he understood all the laws that forbade steeling, killing, lying, and cheating. But what he didn’t understand was the law about slandering your neighbor. “What is the big deal about talking about your friends and neighbors?” he chided the rabbi. The rabbi pondered a bit and then gave him the task of collecting a bag of feathers and then instructed him to place a feather on each of the doorsteps in his town. When he had done that, the rabbi would reveal the answer. Several days later the man returned to the rabbi and told him he’d completed the task, so now he wanted the answer to his question, “What is so bad about talking about your friends and neighbors? It’s only words,” he said. The rabbi wrinkled his brow saying, “Oh, my son, one more task. Go and fetch all the feathers from those doorsteps and bring them back to me.” The man threw up his hands and cried, “That is impossible. By now they are all blown away in the wind.” The rabbi slowly smiled and wisely replied, “Ah, just as the things we say about our friends and neighbors, we will never get those words back. They are blown away like ‘feathers in the wind.’”

Ephesians 4:31-32 (The Message) – Make a clean break with all cutting, backbiting, profane talk. Be gentle with one another, sensitive. Forgive one another as quickly and thoroughly as God in Christ forgave you.

What do your words say about you?