MARCH is fire prevention month. I think this is because a lot of fires occur during this month, making it the ideal banner month to make people aware of the importance of handling fire with some respect and sensibility.

Fires don’t start immediately big. They start from a small spark from a badly connected electrical wiring or from an over-charged cell phone. Big fires rise up from cigarette butts irresponsibly tossed into a pile of trash near a store that sells firecrackers. Or they can be created by fire-starters who cause arson for a fee.

I used the passive voice to show how helpless we can become when fire strikes. It consumes everything in its path, leaving us with no record of our past when it eats up photographs, rare documents, old letters that prove our birth, books that are out of print and vinyl records of collectors of songs by Madonna, The Beatles, Mick Jagger, U2 and perhaps Mario Lanza, an American tenor, actor and Hollywood film star in the late 1940s and 1950s.

Another kind of fire concerns me. It is smokeless, but it is not rust, which science says is a smokeless combustion. This kind of fire, however, does rust up relationships and reputations as well as eats up dignity, self-respect and even a bright future.

The tongue is a fire-starter, which St. James calls “a small part of the body” but it sets lives, churches and relationships on fire with a small spark of careless, senseless, malicious, vindictive words. James did not mince his words when he said no one can tame the tongue.

Recall the many times you heard gossip while you were riding in a jeepney or in a restaurant. The ear can’t shut itself close, and although the lips have the will to stay together, the whole mouth has no power over the tongue.

The tongue corrupts the whole body when it poisons the mind of the person making boasts and ruining the reputation of his so-called friends or enemies through his tongue. It is a restless evil, set on fire by hell, St. James says.

Man’s tongue is a double-faced creature. It praises God when life is coming up roses, but curses him when misfortune strikes. “Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing,” St. James reminds us. And its damage can take a lifetime to repair, though in some cases, the damage is irreparable.

This is the dastardly role of gossip in all its forms (e.g. misusing opinion, reporting or writing). Lest we be consumed by the fire caused by the tongue through backyard gossip, vindictive writing, telephone-brigade gossip and bashing through social media, we have to have our personal tongue prevention month alongside fire prevention month, thinking out whether our intention is to do good or to burn others as we lift up ourselves, feeling holier than thou.