“Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can absolutely destroy me.”
Apart from some groups of people in the Middle East, most of us don’t participate in physical stoning anymore, but before we congratulate ourselves too much, we should consider whether we participate in anything similar.
I think we do.
You see there’s another type of stoning.
Verbal or written stoning is almost the same as the physical version except the emotional (and economic) damage inflicted is much worse.
Verbal stoning is where large groups of people shape public opinion about a person’s character with opinions, judgments and in most cases entirely unsubstantiated assessments.
This not only damages self-esteem but can impair or even ruin someone’s capacity to earn a living. It’s usually precipitated by someone noticing a situation that they don’t like; then looking around for someone to blame for it.
These people usually cast the first stone.
Professional stone throwers
These are the Nancy Graces and Glenn Becks of the world. They make accusations based often on only the way things look, or how they wish them to look and make no room for alternative scenarios. Sometimes for political gain, sometimes out of a personal or religious crusade.
Doesn’t matter the cause, the fact is that they are professional verbal stone throwers, and their role is to focus our attention on a hapless victim and have us follow their volley to shed public shame like blood in the streets.
Oooooh, and it feels good.
There’s a good feeling that comes from watching and listening to a good verbal stone throwing in progress. Sometimes other professionals (stone throwers) will be on a panel, sometimes with someone defending the person or issue involved.
Probably the only thing better than the verbal stone throwing is when the other party is present to duck and return fire: then it turns into what we love even more: a fight.
But these are professionals mind you, and we often do a poor job of stoning the same public figure or issue at home. What we do instead is:
Gossip is the verbal stone of choice for the common person. Neither eloquence nor good penmanship is required. Gossip enables anyone with an opinion and a penchant for blaming to split some emotional heads.
Ah gossip … why do we love you so?
Why we throw stones?
My guess is it has to do with the need to be seen as worthy or valued in the eyes of our communities.
Everybody wants to rank high in their social circles and it seems easier to bring others down than to build ourselves up—to assassinate rather than elevate, so we verbally stone others off their lofty perches of reputation and achievement. Bringing them down seems to bring ourselves up.
Maybe it’s like shooting at an animal that can’t shoot back (don’t know–never done it); maybe it gives a certain sense of power when they fall.
Why professional stone throwers exist
The professionals job is to incite not to reflect. The Graces and Becks of the world exist to counter our pesky conscience, and to stop us from having the time to reflect. (Controversy sells.) If we had a space to think before we started pelting, then at least some of us wouldn’t pelt.
Jesus was in such a space when he said in John 8-7 “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.” That’s the voice of conscience, and it can be quite effective if there is a space for it to be heard as no one had yet begun stoning.
Unfortunately those spaces are almost never available as we live in the noise of modern society where many verbal stonings are in progress. In the din of battle it’s very difficult and even not natural to stop and question the reason for battle, or what’s just from what’s not.
Wisdom of crowds
It’s rare that you see people gathering and preparing to stone, like this scene in the old Monty Python “The Life of Brian.”
More often than not, you enter the scene of much pelting and ducking and pelting back. In fact we all live among projectiles being lobbed in the newspapers, on TV, in our offices and sadly, at home.
When everyone else is throwing, it becomes really easy to join them. The problem is that it’s not often that you can find that space where people are all set up to let fly, but haven’t begun yet; where you can plant that pivotal consideration of
“Who among you is unblemished?”
“Who among you is worthy to cast judgment?”
“Who among you can say that they have never succumbed to sin or just plain f@#ked up?”
“Is there another explanation or reason for why this person did what he did?”
As brilliant as the biblical saying “Let he who is without sin, cast the first stone,” for desired effect you must be in the space of no stone throwing.
Space allows conscience to come in and say “Whoa big fella! Have you considered all the facts? If you were in the exact same situation, with all of the same historical baggage, would you have behaved differently?” Or “Is what I’m about to say here consistent with my religious values of compassion and forgiveness?”
But with a pelting already in progress conscience can’t be heard. When the stones are flying, boy it’s easy to lob a few in there, or at least marvel at velocities, agilities and casualties.
“Nice one!” “Ouch, that’s got to hurt.”
We love to throw stones
Let’s face it, we love to throw stones. It’s fun and an effective distraction from the mediocrity of our lives, we just don’t want to be seen throwing the first stone. And today’s world makes it easy to participate in or be entertained by all of the verbal stonings already in progress.
And when we are faced with a fresh “opportunity” to do some pelting, we have the professionals to initiate that first throw so we aren’t burdened with the voice of conscience.
Seems there’s always someone ready like an attentive butler to ask—with full British accent—”Cast the first stone for you Sir?”