When talk is just talk

We live in a violent world.

Might as well state the obvious up front.

Yet, one of the great mysteries of humanity is that when violence erupts and someone, anyone, goes on the warpath and begins to kill other people, those who know or at least thought they knew the killer will then express surprise. “I didn’t see this one coming.” Or, “he seemed like a nice enough guy.” Or, “he never really bothered anyone, and mostly just kept to himself.”

Or, “he said different things, and he would talk about crazy stuff, but I thought it was just talk.”

It was just talk, so I didn’t really take it all that seriously or really do anything about it.

Just talk.

I’ve heard over my 40+ years of professional service a number of post-violence laments along these lines. Words overheard but then dismissed. A neighbor who killed his wife, but “I would hear him saying all kinds of things to her and calling her all kinds of names, but I never imagined he would actual do something like that.” Or, “I heard our daughter say several times she wanted to just die, but I never thought she would actually kill herself.”

Just talk. Only it was more than just talk. A lot more.

Which brings up this question in my own mind in recent days, and perhaps in yours as well, of whether the Donald Trump vs. Kim Jong Un verbal threats and name calling is just talk. Or more than just talk? A lot more?

I’ve had to ask myself, are these just two guys who are pampered bullies accustomed to getting their own way, no matter what, who are standing up to each other as one is advised to do with other bullies? Or are these two guys who are predictably out to again get their own way, no matter what?

It’s the “no matter what” part of that question that has me worried these days.

I’ve seen it too often before. Husbands who, having bullied their wives with talk, went on to one day commit actual murder. Or we’ve all seen it if paying attention to school shootings where the kid being bullied became the even bigger bully in the fight by taking a gun to school and then………..

And no one saw this coming. A behavioral pattern as old as human history, and no one saw it coming? Figured it was just talk?

Okay, deep breath time.

I’m not suggesting here that all talk leads to violence. But I am suggesting all violence begins with talk. Shootings. Bombings. All acts of violence begin with violent thoughts and then words. And then?

Well, two things can then happen.

We humans can either listen and take words seriously and seek deeper understanding of the thoughts and feelings underneath those words. We can seriously engage and intervene. Which is what happens much of the time in family, community, and even world history.

Or we can try to just ignore the words, assume they’re just talk, and…………after all the violence is then committed, all the death and destruction witnessed and reported………..tell whoever is then listening to us that we sure didn’t see this one coming.

And if we say this, THAT is when talk is just talk.

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