By now you all know that I enjoy the occasional hashtag game on social media. Recently someone brought this one to my attention: #RuinAChildrensBook. The premise is to take a beloved book and, by altering one or two words in the title, significantly change the meaning of the book. As a book lover who is married to a book lover and raising three little book lovers, this was right up my alley.
It’s amazing how changing one or two words can radically alter meaning. Words are incredibly potent. It should be a reminder to all of us to be careful about the words we use when we’re talking to others and about others.
With our words we can build people up.
With our words we can tear people down.
Like bullets from a gun, when words leave our mouths there is no taking them back. Even the most sincere apology cannot undo the hurt we might cause with some poorly chosen words.
So think before you speak. Ask yourself if the words you are choosing will bring life or death.
We may not live in the Wild West but sometimes we sure do act like it. We become gunslingers, looking to take down our enemy at high noon. Instead of six-shooters, though, we use words. Words have power. With our words we can cut people down. With our words we can cripple another. With our words we can destroy a reputation or even cripple a business. Words have power. You may have found yourself on the wrong end of someone’s words – what they say to you or about you is terrible and difficult, like looking down the barrel of a .357 Magnum. Perhaps you’ve already faced the destruction that comes from someone’s harsh and hurtful words and now you’re trying to recover as best you can. Words have power. Choose them wisely.
Too many fail to see how powerful their words are. The tongue can be an ugly thing. We throw around terms and phrases without thinking about the consequences of those power weapons. In the Army every warfighter has to qualify with their rifle. When we go to the range to shoot the instructors are clear to remind Soldiers that they have the responsibility to know where their targets are and what lies beyond. Every time a bullet comes out of the rifle the Soldier is responsible for what happens on the other end. What would happen if we started treating our words in a similar fashion? Stop speaking so quickly and think about your intended target and what happens beyond. Where do the words go? Who might the words hit? Human speech has an enormous capacity for harm or for good. Words have power. Choose them wisely.
The Bible has some practical advice on how we should behave when it comes to our mouths. Not merely some abstract thoughts here – concrete steps on what we can do to gain control of our mouths, to stop tearing people down, and to start building people up. It’s not difficult at all – just three things to remember:
~ Listen up, shut up, and calm down. I don’t know about you, but every time I’m told to “do something” there is a part of me that wants to rebel and do the exact opposite. I remember one time when my wife thought I was driving too fast and told me so. Rather than admit that I might be going a little too fast I punched the gas. Not smart, but that seems to be a human response. When God tells us to listen up, shut up, and calm down there’s part of us that wants to say, “WHAT?!? YOU CAN’T TELL ME WHAT TO DO!” Of course, the Bible doesn’t phrase it so coarsely. It says:
“Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.”
Yeah, that’s much nicer. But the point is the same. We too often fly off at the handle and speak without listening, embracing rage and anger. I don’t want to beat a dead horse but we’ve seen just this thing happen in response to the Zimmerman/Martin issue. God says, “Listen first, speak second, and hold back on the anger.” But we’re doing just the opposite! An entire nation is quick to speak, slow to listen, and fanning the flames of rage and anger. In all fairness, it’s both sides of the fence that are behaving this way – not merely one party.
We forget that words have power. Racist words. Sexist words. Slander & Gossip. Manipulation. There are many ways that we use language to cut each other down. And we let our rage fuel our pet issues. But the Bible is clear that human anger may bring about vengeance or payback but it does not bring about divine justice. It doesn’t reflect the character of God nor does it accomplish that which God would regard as true righteousness.
It’s hard even to imagine our world filled with people who are listen first, take their time to respond, and stay calm. But it will never happen if we don’t start to imagine it. Imagine a world where people actually lived out watching what they said and using words wisely. This means we need use our words to build up and not tear down. Like a little spider or a hand grenade – the tongue isn’t so big, but is capable of great damage.
Be careful, little mouth, what you say….
How about you? How have you been hurt by words? How have you hurt others with your words?
Not every thought that pops into your head ought to come out of your mouth. I wish that statement was part of a social media class that people were required to take before being given a Twitter account, Facebook page, or any other medium available these days. It’s called discretion. Need to look it up? Discretion is the ability to be discreet or circumspect; the ability to decide responsibly. Doesn’t really sound like the internet, does it?
Social Media – giving every idiot a voice to his opinion since 2003. And they have LOUDvoices. Almost everywhere you turn you run into people who say stupid things. They say hurtful things. They say hateful things. And because they have a computer or a phone they have a platform from which to launch their idiocy.
The Bible talks about the power of the tongue, about the damage we can inflict with mere words:
If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. 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. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, 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 mankind, but 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. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. (James 3:3-10)
My mouth – not the biggest part of my body but still capable of so much damage. And from behind the safety of a computer monitor or smart phone we feel free to lash out at others. We feel free to disrespect, to slander, to be rude, to intentionally hurt, and to revel in our immorality.
So before you post stop and think.
– Does this really need to be shared? ‘Cause it might not need to be shared. Just because you had a funny thought doesn’t mean it is appropriate for the world. Keep it to yourself.
– Is the world made better because of sharing this? If you’re adding to the noise with verbal junk (hate, hurt, immorality…you know – idiocy) it’s not making things better. Keep it to yourself.
– Is my intention to build others up or brighten someone’s day?I’ve seen too many people post with the intention of making others feel bad. Really?!? Do you have such a desperate need to feel good about yourself that you need to post things that make others feel worse? If you’re not building others up you’ve got no place posting. Keep it to yourself.
– Is God honored in sharing this? I understand that you might not share my spiritual perspective. But this is my blog – which means my perspective wins here. What we say and do can reflect well or can reflect poorly on God. As a person of faith, do my words reflect well on my God? Is he honored in what I post? I admit that some posts are faith-neutral. I don’t think God receives much attention in my post about how much I love rhubarb pie and icecream. Still, you know what I mean. If your thoughts don’t honor God – Keep it to yourself.
I desire for people to rise above their basest nature and act with wisdom, decency, and discretion. I know that people will continue to spew their idiocy. It’s the nature of humanity to do so. But still…I hope…