The following sad story caught my attention — for its unique, potential legal precedent — and — for its broader application…
A young Massachusetts woman, Michelle Carter, who was 17 at the time of the incident, was found guilty Friday of involuntary manslaughter in the suicidal death of her boyfriend, Conrad Roy III. Both struggled with depression, and Roy had prior suicide attempts. And when Roy was set to attempt it again, he had stepped out of his truck filled with carbon monoxide, but was in touch with Carter, who encouraged him to get back in.
The case, as noted by observing legal experts, hinged primarily on hundreds of text messages between the two. For example:
Carter: “If you want it as bad as you say you do, it’s time to do it today.”
Roy: “Yup. No more waiting.”
Carter: “Okay. I’m serious. Like you can’t even wait ‘till tonight. You have to do it when you get back from your walk.”
In a trial where the 6th Amendment’s right to a jury was waived, the judge held those words against Michelle Carter. Said the judge, “She admits in … texts that she did nothing; she did not call the police or Mr. Roy’s family. And, finally, she did not issue a simple additional instruction: get out of the truck.”
Her words were viewed as a weapon.
As I ponder the tragedy of the families involved above, I can’t help but focus on that perspective: her words were used as a weapon. The court saw it as such. Said Massachusetts ACLU lawyer, Matthew Segal: “This is saying that what she did is killing him, that her words literally killed him, that the murder weapon here was her words.”
Pause here for a moment.
Think not simply of our teens and tweens.
Think of us.
How many times have we seen on social media especially (where it’s easier to boldly rant without looking your audience in the eye) where we use our words as a weapon? Where we rant, rave, insult, judge, assert how evil or idiotic another is, or tell someone to go [expletive-inserted-here] themselves? We — not just our teens — are using our words as a weapon.
Friends, using words as a weapon doesn’t make another want to be like us. Beating another up with a vicious, rhetorical two-by-four is not an effective means of winning friends and influencing people. Beating them up only injures further.
Said international speaker and author Yehuda Berg:
“Words are singularly the most powerful force available to humanity. We can choose to use this force constructively with words of encouragement, or destructively using words of despair. Words have energy and power with the ability to help, to heal, to hinder, to hurt, to harm, to humiliate and to humble.”
In other words, whether on Facebook or face-to-face, we have a choice in how to use our words. We can use them to build up or tear down. We can use them to affirm or insult. We can use them to reflect upon self or point fingers at another. The wisdom in our words depends on how we use them.
As Michelle Carter awaits an August sentencing, there is no doubt her situation is a sad story with no easy answers. It’s heartbreaking. Unfortunately, what’s currently playing out on social media and elsewhere — between adults not necessarily suffering from depression — is also, often, equally sad.
May we use our words wisely… always.