You know, some days it’s best not to talk, write, make eye contact, or communicate in any fashion at all. If you have a teenaged daughter in your life, you’re painfully aware of how quickly a controversial statement, like “Good Morning!” can be misinterpreted to the point of tears.
So it was with a recent Facebook comment I quickly (Mistake #1) and flippantly (Mistake #2) posted. Any more information than that and the person who messaged me, 8 seconds later, in high dudgeon, will recognize himself/herself, and since it was only by means of almost debasing myself to groveling in the dirt that I mitigated the situation (actually, I simply apologized for the misunderstanding), I don’t want to go through that again.
What intrigued me was not so much the gross misinterpretation of my words, as it was the genuine hurt and pain in my correspondent’s thoughts. S/he thought that I — a person of some meaning in his/her life — would publicly insult him/her so that I would look clever and intelligent.
The sad thing about this attitude is that s/he, like many people in this society, are validated in feeling that way. Our society — our clever, witty, droll, quick, one-liner amalgam of people who walk through each day as if we were characters in a movie or reality show — rewards people who make funny comments, even if — and often especially when — they come at the expense of others.
“Deal with it,” people are told. “Dish it back or leave the room. Nobody likes a crybaby.”
I don’t know about you, but the last time I heard a baby cry, I dropped everything I was doing and made sure that she was okay. That’s what adults do with children: we love them, protect them, nurture them, and comfort them when they cry.
But when they grow up, we eat them.
“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up,” the apostle Paul tells us in Ephesians 4:29. And while we generally jump to swearin’ and cussin’ as examples of unwholesome talk, check out the “building others up,” part. Flip, pithy comments, which always draw a laugh from somewhere, frequently don’t build up the butt of the comment. The person attacked feels like an ass.
Sorry. I couldn’t resist — I love word play, and I deliberately frolicked in the last sentence to show that being a Christian doesn’t mean we can’t be funny, we can’t make puns, we can’t play with the language even to the point of naughtiness (always keeping in mind that there’s a right time and a right place for everything — our dining room table is the venue of some remarkably interesting jokes that will never be printed in this column) — but we don’t tear down.
We live in a rude society where our defenses go up the moment we step out the door. Some people have their defenses up all the time, because even within their home they feel attacked. As Christians, we can season our words with salt (“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone,” Colossians 4:6) and mitigate the verbal and emotional damage people undergo as part of their normal day.
You don’t have to slip in the word, “Jesus,” or “Praise God!” to season your words with grace. A smile, which involves no words at all, warms the soul. A gentle observation — “You handled that very well,” — encourages and uplifts. Tactful silence, something Job would have appreciated, has its place.
Words hurt, and words heal. They build up; they tear down; and the memory of their utterance echoes through the years, providing constant suffering, or constant joy.
Every year, on my children’s birthday, I make a point of saying, “I’m glad you were born,” because I know that there are far too many people who have heard the opposite. I can’t do anything to take away the pain of those words in those people’s hearts and heads, but if I watch my mouth, think twice before speaking once, and stop worrying about sounding witty and bright, I may have the opportunity of putting in a good word that may, someday, lead people closer to the Word Himself.
Join me Wednesdays for my Contempo Christianity articles, discussing how real Christians live like, well, real people in the 21st century. You can also find me at Commonsense Christianity, my blog at BeliefNet. Recent articles there include
Many times, we are our own worse enemy when it comes to making ourselves feel
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