I was recently taking in a Baltimore Orioles baseball game when a loud insult pierced the peaceful atmosphere: "HEY, LEW FORD, YOU'RE A BUM!"
For those of you who aren't baseball fans, Lew Ford is a reserve outfielder for the Orioles. He came into the game with a .161 batting average in just a handful of at bats. That doesn't give fans much to cheer about, but it's no reason to insult him, especially when sitting within his earshot from behind the Orioles dugout.
As Ford approached home plate, I slowly turned to see what kind of person would unleash such an unprovoked, unwarranted verbal assault. Surprisingly, it wasn't an immature young adult, or an overgrown brute reeking of alcohol. It was a guy who looked like he probably goes to work every day and has a wife and kids.
What is it that makes otherwise normal people feel like they can throw insults at will?
I had to smile inside when Ford promptly hit a home run, his first since 2007. But these stories don't always have such happy endings. While I don't know Ford, I do know other professional players who have struggled, and it's often an agonizing experience. They pretend they don't hear the boos and insults, but they do.
To some it probably appears that a struggling player just isn't doing his job. But what is going on behind the scenes could be many different things: divorce, depression, family problems. New York Mets pitcher R.A. Dickey's on-field struggles almost cost him his life when he went on an ill-advised swim across the Missouri River (see Marvin Olasky's "Worship on the mound").
The trials of life are just as real for public figures as they are for the rest of us.
Obviously this issue is not unique to sports. In the heat of a presidential election cycle, insults are more common than ideas. I'm always amazed how individuals from both parties can level the most vicious personal attacks against another person.
Although politicians are the ones most often criticized for their attacks, average citizens do it, too. It's true that voting means you and I have a voice in the process, but our voices shouldn't sound the same as the unregenerate masses - especially when we've been commanded to honor those in authority over us (Romans 13).
Proverbs 18:21 says in the tongue are the power of life and death. Here's hoping Christians can become known for the former instead of the latter.