When it comes to communication, what we “say” and what we “mean” can be two different things as much as what we “say” and what others “hear.” Our words can be inclusive or exclusive; they can be soothing or cause pain. The words we choose to use really do make a difference. While I believe this, I do not profess to always do it well. I have been in trouble many times, for things I have said and not meant and even things that I have meant and not said. I have read many a truth from the Bible and often wished I could be silent more often, sensing this is the only way I can avoid getting into trouble.
Proverbs 12:18 ESV
There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.
Matthew 12:36 ESV
I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak,
Matthew 12:37 ESV
For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”
Proverbs 13:3 ESV
Whoever guards his mouth preserves his life; he who opens wide his lips comes to ruin.
I was taught since a young child “that if I have nothing good to say, then best not to say anything at all”. I believe this is wise counsel, however this doesn’t seem to be what we are teaching today.
I have been particularly saddened by language and words that have been used over the past months regarding issues all over the world in politics, gender issues, women’s rights, terrorism, Islam, refugees and the list goes on. I find myself in conversation with people daily and depending on how I choose to respond, I feel more than ever before, an argument could be started and a wall can be built. For a while now my choice has simply been to be silent in the midst of increasingly polarised views. Yet, in my silence I have read more and listened more to world events than I have ever done before in my lifetime. We live in a time where everyone (all ages) has an opinion to express and the ability to express their words on a potential world stage through social media. With great opportunities comes great responsibility and yet daily I see more walls are being built rather than bridges to hearing each other’s views. Never before have I sat amongst peers and friends and felt like silence is the only option.
But are we called to be silent? As Christians in an increasingly secular western society, what are the “words” God is calling us to use and in what way? Maybe sometimes we are called to be silent, but not all the time. And if we are not called to be silent, then Lord, when are we called to speak and how are we called to speak? Perhaps when the world is so polarised it is precisely when the right words are the most important. In fact, some would say that to be silent at this time is a cop out. For me, I must confess, choosing silence has often been the easy option, for the sake of peace, fear, miscommunication and even at times fear of what people will think of me, but mostly because I do not want to speak anything other than what God would be pleased with and because honest “Truth” has been muddied for me.
Hebrews 4:12 ESV
For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.
While I choose to believe this is true, how is it then that I can be in a room of colleagues, be at dinner with friends, read blogs and twitter feeds and hear Christians choose words and say things that I simply cannot agree with, words that suggest that “truth” is not “truth”, but in fact is simply relative.
But I say again ... is silence the only option? Is it the Godly option? When is it best to listen? When are we called to speak? And when we speak what words do we choose?
Or is it more about HOW we choose to communicate, how we choose our words carefully and how we treat each other. When communication gets heated or misunderstood in our family, I say to my children, “it is all in the way you say it,” and surely it is the same everywhere. If when we chose to speak there is mutual “empathy” and “respect,” we might have a better chance to cross the great polarised divide. If we can’t do that as Christians first with each other, then what right and hope do we have to be a voice in these troubled times. I do believe that now, more than ever before, it is time to choose our words carefully; with empathy and respect.
As Robb Miller says,
“We owe it to each other and our country to try to reach out and try to connect. We can’t afford to hate them any longer and let them hate us. Empathy and respect ... when you think about it, is the very least we can do for our fellow citizens”. (https://www.ted.com/talks/robb_willer_how_to_have_better_political_conversations)