Core to who we are as Catholics is to recognize the inherent dignity of all persons gifted by God with life which is reflected in how we respect and relate to one another certainly in deed, but also in word. Words can be used to build up and support the common good or to tear down and divide.
When I was growing up a common saying was “sticks and stones can break my bones but names can never hurt me.” I defensively declared that when I was made fun of and called “four eyes” for having to wear glasses, “a shrimp” for being so short, or “a loser” because my parents had divorced. The fact is that denigrating words do hurt and often last longer than physical wounds that heal over time.
The incivility we see in politics and personal relationships, including bullying, can be attributed to hurtful words intentionally spoken to strike at another and demean him or her. Differences of opinion are natural and worthy of discussion. Greater insight and even wisdom can be revealed through robust debate undertaken with respect for one another based on truth and fullness of knowledge.
Much of the information we receive these days comes in short oral sound bites or brief headlines or strophe limited text messages that can only partially convey the fullness of that information. Often the incompleteness of the words leads to misjudgments and judgmentalism that can lead to disrespect based on untruth or inadequate knowledge.
Therefore in Christian charity we are called to be careful in how we receive and interpret information especially about individuals and what we share with others. We do not always need to know what we would like to know, nor do we need to share what we know with others who have no need to know.
Pope Francis regularly speaks of the responsibility to avoid gossip and to be respectful of the dignity of all persons in the words we choose to speak because gossip and rumors are works of the evil one and divide the Body of Christ. There is an old saying that someone who gossips to you will gossip about you.
The Eighth Commandment declares that we are not to bear false witness against our neighbor. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches what that means in concrete situations:
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