"Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never harm me," we used to chant at school.
How wrong we were. And even then, at some level of our being we knew that. In bed at night, those hurtful words would return to taunt and haunt us. Words can just as surely break us as those sticks and stones. Perhaps the words may not break our bones, but they can break the heart and will and hope.
The old cultures knew this. In Biblical times, as in Africa today, the name one gives a child is never that of the current favourite TV star, or a "pretty" name. One's name discloses one's nature, and naming should be done with care and thought.
To curse a person, to name some evil that will befall them, is as sure a way of causing harm as throwing a stone. In the west, and societies influenced by it, we lost the understanding of the power of words, which became cheap, supposedly easy to say and easy to discard.
The AIDS pandemic has pushed us to look at the issue of words and naming again. The way I talk about a person has profound consequences for their place in society and for their own self-understanding. If I describe a person as "infected", then he is dangerous, a threat to me, because he may infect me too. He becomes "the other" and we need to keep a barrier between us.
Conversely, if I say that we are all "affected" by AIDS, then there is no distinction between those who live with the virus in their bodies, and those who don’t. We are all in the pandemic together.
If a say a person is "dying from HIV" then I write off the possibilities she has for living well now - I have already relegated her to the realm of the dying. If I say she is "living with HIV" then my words emphasise the possibilities of life still to be lived.
Furthermore, if I reduce a person's identity to simply their HIV status, then I ignore all the other significant aspects of who they are - their culture, gender, hopes, talents and so on.
Sadly, the religious communities, instead of promoting life and inclusion, have too often been complicit in fuelling the ostracising of people living with HIV and AIDS. We have pronounced judgement on people. We have excluded some people from communal worship. We have made it difficult, even terrifying, for people to talk about their status. Our words have enormous power and we have not used them wisely.
All our religious traditions, though, also recognise the possibility for repentance and change. What a difference it would make if we measured our words more carefully.
What a difference it would make if we resolved to use language which includes rather than excludes. What a difference it would make if we allowed people to define themselves and say who they experience themselves to be, rather than doing the naming for them.
What a difference it would make if we recognised the power of words.
in setswana there is an idiom that says LEFOKO GA LE BOE GO BOWA MO NWANA loosely translated your pointed insulting finger might go but what you said will remain with me forever.it is sad that religion has not learned anything from its past . Every year we do services repernting for having participated in evil but yet we still continue to use words that hurt, abuse and create divisions in our communities .We in southren Africa should know better, we have seen language distroying and breaking communities . We have seen our communities being divided by simple words,becouse of A therefore you are B,THAT IS DIFFERENT FROM US. One will have thought that the church will by now be leading in campaign against the use of words that discriminate and stigmatise others . Are we not the very ones who say "we who are many are one body". the challenge for the church and religious fratanity is to learn that what is different from us does not mean evil and that our language can ethier make or destroy our communities.This does not mean we can not comment or make suggestions but in all that we do we must remember we are in this together.What hurts one hurts all of us
Above all you have said although these words are powerful they are accompanied by the actions like facial expression which are also powerful. After that they will kill the individual.The simple words can destroy the whole nation what about the words accompanied by action that is even worse. It is even hard for the infected person to disclose the status because of the everyday words you hear.if you disclose you are killing yourself and if you do not you are torturing yourself.When the words are spoken it is hard to erase them in fact you will never succeed to erase unlike the written words in the board.In order to be safe is to talk less and hear more that is the best.
My struggle with words is that they let me down in two ways. Firstly they do not precisely convey what I think or feel. Secondly, as you people have mentioned above,what people say to us or what we say to other people remain with them forever. I think the challenge for all of us is to constantly seek ways of talking that are come as close as possible to what we think and words that would fashion our world view such that we say words that would leave a constructive indelible mark on other people. This i believe is the struggle that the church needs to take very serious!
I think the church should consider the power of "Logos" of which it claims to have. the church must identify one of the Characters of Logos in Jhn1:3-4. Logos (the word of God) in vrs 3-4, had life and I call life a character of logos. this is a challenge to many of us who are christians that our words should have life or give life. in the conext of people living with HIV, words from christians should give life to those people.one may ask how do we give life by using words. to me statements that do not condemn HIV as Jnt makes us aware but words that are showing acceptance,respect,love are giving life. words are the weapons for the church to break opressive sturctures and give hope to hopeless people. and if the words from the church are not giving life, the church is not preaching "Logos". I think many will agree with me that words of life do not exclude, discourage discriminate and do other bad things mentioned instead Logos liberates. I fully agree with Jnt that words last loger and if we are not sensitive we can opress for a long time if not forever with our words.
In our cultures:
Naming is important and even in the culture of the church naming is important and if it is not done properly it can leave a stigma on a person for her/his life long.In sesotho Culture a name(Lebitso)is important because it also reavels the the future the parents hope for their child. In Sesotho and Setswana culture the name is believed to have the character of the person to whom the nameis given. This means if the name is bad the person given the name will be perceived to be bad for the rest of her/his life. In other words a name can be an Insult to other people as long as they live. I know some in Sesotho and Setswana that were given as insults to people. I challenge our cultures not to name insults but to give Honour and dignity to people who all have a NAME as a right. And in the church we should recheck names. chirstians have what they call christian names. I do not have a problem with christians names But my problem comes when some names are claimed to be christian yet they are not. We know in the past missionaries were giving people names in Baptism. Some names were just names not christian names. Names like Botle,Kitchen, spoon, fork and days of the week were not christian and there are people who still inherit these names thinking they are christian. So christians should really think of HONOUR AND DIGNITY when they name their people.