There is a Christian teenage book that I have that's a story about a girl who goes to a youth group where the leader seems to make a lot of put-downs and the whole atmosphere of the youth group seems to be about out-smarting someone else by putting him/her down more than she can put you.
Of course in the end, the youth leader repents and everyone takes a pledge to watch their language and behave in a godly way. Honestly, I found the youth group scenes so distasteful that I don't pick up that book as much as other books. It made me cringe to read about how hurt the youths were when other youths hurled insults at them in the name of 'fun'.
But here's the funny thing... I realised that amongst some of the youth groups in M'sia, there is this culture of 'put each other down'. Normally the older ones are the most practised at doing it, so it's considered 'smart', it's considered 'funny' and it's the 'popular' thing to do.
I guess I find it uncomfortable because I learnt something totally different. When I was in CHC Singapore, we were taught to encourage each other. We would write notes, letters, call each other etc.
Putting each other down with our words was not encouraged at all - in fact, you could get hauled up pretty sternly for doing that!
When I returned to Malaysia, I soon got used to the fact that the 'encourage each other' thing was not a popular practise in Malaysia. That was fine with me; I mean, we are more reserved, right? Different country, different culture. No problem.
But put each other down instead? I couldn't wrap my head around that one. Where did the principle of 'love one another' fall in with 'insult one another'?
I could certainly understand if the teasing is interspersed with moments of encouragement - and caution was taken to see that one didn't go too far. But I didn't see that. I saw defensive walls being put up and younger ones learning to be as quick and as hurtful as the older ones in order to survive the culture.
Soon I realised something... this wasn't a 'youth' problem, it was an 'everyone's problem. True, the adults didn't put each other down. Well, except for some.... but those are in the minority.
They still didn't practise the 'encourage each other' ... in fact, one lady in my church often gets praised for being encouraging. To me, it's not so much that she is encouraging (although she is) as much as compared to the DIScouragement of other people, the difference is so glaringly obvious!
But what I found instead in Malaysia was put-downs at other people. Put-downs towards the government, put-downs towards Christian leadership (sadly enough, yes, in some churches), put-downs towards bosses....
And I looked round and feel sad...
Slander is slander. I don't care if the slander is directed against a politician... to accuse someone by saying "He did it" without knowing FOR SURE he did it (and I don't care if all evidence points to that; if you didn't see it happen, you don't know if it DID happen) IS SLANDER. And since when did the Bible say, "Slander is okay if it is directed towards politicians"?
Is it MORE okay to be nasty towards your boss and bad-mouth him in front of your other church members when you yam cha just because he is a boss? Show me the passage that says, "Thou mayeth speak evil of thy boss simply because he is a boss", and I'll give you a nice, fat red packet!
When Hannah Yeoh came to our church and spoke about the nasty things said to her and spoken against her, I couldn't help but think, "That's normal for Malaysians." We've not learnt to guard our tongues, let alone be encouraging. Is this the way we Christians show ourselves to be salt and light to the world? By being just like everyone else, slandering and bad-mouthing and putting down and being discouraging?
Jesus said that the world would know that He is with us because we love one another. I don't know about you - but I think putting up walls so you won't get hurt by someone else's words is not the best way to learn to 'love one another'.
So perhaps the young people are just learning from the adults that put-downs are good, 'adult' and the in-thing to do. Or perhaps they're just following their peers. Whatever. At the age of youth, one has the mind of an adult and can think for himself.
The Bible tells us to control our tongues. Let's try this basic thing even as we aim to be the glorious bride, even as we say, "These are the last days and we need to shine in this world." Let's learn to guard unity in the Body of Christ. It is so important as the days get darker.