It still shocks me what is said on social media with its few degrees of separation. The no-holds-barred statements laced with hate, the offensive name-calling and the lies. They hide behind their tablet, computer or smartphone and muster the most loathsome messages to pierce reputation and self esteem.
The pack mentality of those who follow suit is the lowest game of follow-the-leader. Speaking of pack mentality – we’ve seen it alive and well at the footy with the Adam Goodes booing controversy.
No one should be subject to public, repetitive, malicious words delivered from the anonymity and distance of ‘the crowd’ – whatever form that takes.
The problem is nothing new. In fact, the problem is a very small slimy thing that also gives much delight in devouring mum’s apple crumble or pulling silly faces or kissing our beloved.
“The tongue has the power of life and death,” Proverbs 18:21 reads.
The tongue – as a symbol of our individual voice and right to use it – is a dangerous weapon.
Never has it been more important to acknowledge the power of our words and to advise restraint than now, when cutting words feed the slavering social media appetite for sensation – when distribution immediacy means words cannot be clutched back, and a face-to-face “I’m sorry” doesn’t dissipate the tension like it used to.
I’ve been reading the New Testament book of James. It has just five chapters jam-packed with the kind of wisdom you hope your children will one day demonstrate. It compares the tongue to a bit in a horse’s mouth or the rudder of a ship – a small and humble item with the power to direct a large entity. James 3:5-6 says,
“Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire.”
That is, if it’s used badly. When used for good, that same body part can edify, encourage and generate love.
The best advice I’ve ever had on the way to harness the tongue is to wait.
“The heart of the righteous weighs its answers, but the mouth of the wicked gushes evil.”
- Don’t say (or write) the first thing that flares in your mind. Wait. Allow the angry emotions to subside so you can levelly address what you need to address. If you need to address it at all.
- Give the deliverer the benefit of the doubt, especially if there’s any ambiguity. Ask them to clarify. Speak to them in person, for goodness sake!
- If you need to deliver a hard word, cushion it with grace and love – and not on a public forum where some relish riding the old gossip wagon.
- Try not to take offense.
But isn’t it awful to be misunderstood?
As a columnist for nearly eight years on the often-divisive topic of religion, I’ve been misunderstood. Mostly, I can blame myself. I’m the wordsmith, right? By now I should know how to knock some words together in a way that communicates my intent with clarity and eloquence!
But the words on the page are only half the story because each reader brings their own unique narrative – and thus perspective. Sitting down to read an article, such as this, brings two stories into dialogue. Yours and mine.
In that scenario, there are bound to be differences, no matter how graciously the words are framed.
Everyone’s a writer these days thanks to blogs and forums like Twitter and Facebook. Stories collide with more frequency and friction so we must learn how to handle the verbiage, to reign in the wayward tongue.
“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”
Sage advice from way back.
First published in The Examiner Newspaper for Keeping the Faith column on Monday August 10, 2015.