Scripture is abundant with admonitions to guard our tongue but perhaps the most sobering admonition comes in the Epistle of James:
“Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, for you know that we who teach shall be judged with greater strictness. For we all make many mistakes, and if any one makes no mistakes in what he says he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body also. If we put bits into the mouths of horses that they may obey us, we guide their whole bodies. Look at the ships also; though they are so great and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So the tongue is a little member and boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire!
And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is an unrighteous world among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the cycle of nature, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by humankind, but no human being can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brethren, this ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening fresh water and brackish? Can a fig tree, my brethren, yield olives, or a grapevine figs? No more can salt water yield fresh.” (James 3:1-12 RSV CE)
Oh the tongue! I cannot remember a confession that did not include something related to the tongue. We might like to imagine that “sins of the tongue” are more of a female struggle. Sins of the tongue may look different for men and women, but that does make them any less of a struggle. How many times do we needlessly put down a brother, either behind their back or in front of others? Do we do it to stroke our own egos and make ourselves look better? Or how many times have we lost our temper and spouted out “fire” (as St. James put it)? Or told a dirty or off-color joke? Or taken the Lord’s name in vain or threw in a cuss/swear word in inappropriately? Or how many times have we failed to acknowledge the dignity of another person in our conversation, seeking only to get what we want out of someone? Finally, how many times has pride taken over and we have embellished the truth or outright lied to make ourselves look better?
Mentoring conversations with young men may tend towards talking about cussing/swearing. You can start there and use that to launch them deeper, but we want to go beyond censoring particular words. Why did they use a cuss word? Perhaps they didn’t think twice about it. Or did they want to seem more manly or cooler to their friends. Are there appropriate times when men can drop a cuss word in the company of other men? Should there be standards of how we talk as men when women aren’t around? Are there certain ways we shouldn’t talk around women? Much of this conversation will depend on the age and maturity of the young men, but it ought to bring you to discuss the application of the virtue of prudence.
These questions also lend themselves to looking not only at our speech, but at the source of our speech. Corrupt communication comes from a corrupt heart. Hopefully this is where we can get to the heart, our humility and holiness – how we see and speak to others – and not just which words we use in sentences.