Human speech, says the writer of the Epistle of James in the New Testament, seems innocent enough. After all, the tongue is just a small part of the body. Yet despite its size, the tongue is like a bit that controls a horse or a rudder that steers an enormous ship. The tongue can burn like a raging forest fire incinerating everything it touches. It can corrupt both the subject and the object of speech. What we say to one another can be "full of deadly poison" that kills.
"With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men and women, who have been made in God's likeness. Out of the same mouth comes praise and cursing. My brothers, my sisters, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring?" James recommends that "everyone should be quick to listen and slow to speak."
In practice, most of us tend to be just the opposite, quick to speak and slow to listen! The power of the uncontrolled tongue is a serious problem. Our words have power--power for good or for evil. What we say to one another can exclude or embrace, heal or humiliate, lift up or tear down. Most of us still carry the wounds from criticisms heaped on us years ago. Most of us can still remember a compliment given, even though it was given many decades ago. The power of the tongue is an awesome power!
What we say to one another or about one another reveals more about us than about the person to whom or about whom we speak our words. That's a scary part about toxic talk--it reveals the character of our own inner identity. We project on others that which we refuse to deal with within ourselves. We put other people down in order to raise ourselves up or to insure our own superiority.
Watch your tongue! In the gospel of Matthew (12:34-37) we read that we will have to give an account for every careless word we have spoken. Now that is really scary!