What Did You Say?

Photo by  Laurent Francois

In the midst of our country’s current political cycle, which is so widely covered by every media outlet that you can’t get away from it, hyperbole and vitriol and one-upmanship and hateful banter seem to be the rules of the game. Candidates from both parties have thrown jabs at each other, belittling and berating each other over everything from personal appearance to family lineage to past business dealings to personal family tragedies. As voters, we declare through social media and conversation that we are appalled, frustrated and uninterested in such rhetoric. However, something keeps the candidates talking in this way. Maybe it is the media attention, and maybe, just maybe, a small portion of it is that we the people actually enjoy the mudslinging more than we’d like to admit.

Lessons from a Cartoon & the Bible

As I’ve watched and listened, mouth agape at what I’m hearing, I have truly been discouraged. But I also haven’t turned off the TV or stopped reading the headlines. Through all of this, I’m challenged by the timely words of the Thumper the Rabbit from the movie Bambi, who recalled a lesson his parents had taught him: “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all.” I wonder what impact taking this lesson to heart would do for our country and our world.

Even if we don’t realize it, what we say, even when we’re angry or feel we have been wronged, even when we think no one is listening, has such a far-reaching impact. Our words are much bigger than we realize. In James 3 we are reminded: "Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs" (James 3:4 ESV). This speaks right to the fact that our tongue, though small and seemingly powerless, has an unmistakable impact on our very hearts and lives. A little later in the chapter, we read that “No human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing” (James 3:8-10 ESV). What hypocrites we can be! With one breath, we can sing praises to the Lord, and somehow we can turn right around and demean, tear down, spew hatred towards those who don’t look/act/think like us.

Adding Value to the Conversation

In a bit of introspection, I am considering not only the words of others, but how the words that come out of my own mouth direct the attitudes of my heart. Or maybe it is the other way around and the attitudes of my heart impact the words that roll off my tongue. Either way, my heart and my words are inextricably connected and I know I need to be more careful with both. How often do I hear (and yes, even distribute on occasion) gossip? And how do those words shape my view on the person of whom I am speaking? Lately I’m being reminded to be a little slower to speak, and to consider whether what I’m adding to a conversation has any real value, whether it builds up or tears down, whether it unites or divides. It seems to me that the world these days has enough words, especially the ugly ones. Maybe I should be a little more thoughtful with how I’m using mine. 

I’m not advocating that we all go around disingenuously pouring compliments over each other, or pretending as though there are no real problems that should be discussed. If issues need to be addressed, if conflict needs to be resolved, if difficult conversations need to be had, then by all means we speak up and have them—but let’s try to have them in love, using words as bridges to unite and not swords to divide.