The world of the 2020s has been one filled with debate. People these days don’t even seem to be very picky about what they are debating. According to many, loudly voicing arguments has become the key to unlocking the change we want to see in the world. And to take it a step further, being willing to fly in the face of the dreaded norm seems to prove one is a real humanitarian. “I will stand up for my rights.” “I demand to be heard.” “I will not be ignored.” “You must listen to me and also take up my cause, or you are definitely _____-phobic.” (Fill in the blank. There are tons of prefixes to choose from.) And PLEASE... Let’s not forget there are whole apps created solely for the purpose of sharing a play-by-play account of every thought that pops into our heads. Apparently, there are those who believe the world is being transformed one post at a time.
Along with the constant chatter, to really step up your world-changer status, some giant gesture will surely bring your point home. Although, forgive me, but I’m not completely sure I understand how a can of soup thrown onto priceless works of art or gluing yourself to a wall is really supposed to make me more willing to buy an electric car. (Seriously, what was that about?) Maybe I am just not very smart, or maybe your brilliant statement or gesture simply got overshadowed by the ten other brilliant statements being shouted across media outlets that day. Frankly, it has all become exhausting and demoralizing.
The Bible says in Proverbs 17:27-28, “The one who has knowledge uses words with restraint and whoever has understanding is even-tempered. Even fools are thought wise if they keep silent, and discerning if they hold their tongues.” And Abraham Lincoln said, “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt.” I know there are some outspoken people who really know what they are talking about, and I, in no way, think there is never a reason to use your voice. Obviously, that isn’t what King Solomon thought either since Proverbs is full of great wisdom, nor Abraham Lincoln since he is responsible for some of the most inspiring speeches of all time. But could it be that the plethora of platforms available to update our status these days and the 24-hour news cycle that spends much of its airtime reporting the he said/she said game has tricked us into believing it is our duty to constantly “share our truth” with the world? Surely, most of us can admit we are no King Solomon or Abraham Lincoln.
When I was a little girl and misbehaved, the behavior modification techniques employed by my mom always seemed to be accompanied by a speech of sorts that she would use to explain why she was disappointed in my choices. My dad, on the other hand, would simply have to give me that look. You know the one? It is the one that brings you instantly to tears. The look that said it all and more. It was the look that broke my heart, and it was the reason I would try NEVER to repeat my bad behavior. I would do anything to avoid it. I know I am not alone in this experience. And let me be clear. I didn’t hate the look because I feared my dad. He is the best! But I had a healthy respect for his expectations, and he had no intention of allowing them to be ignored. It was often the same with my kids. By the time I had finished using all my words and passing out consequences, they were usually just bored. But let my husband step in with his own version of “the look” and the atmosphere immediately changed. Why did it work that way so often? My guess is that my mom and I were simply over-expressing ourselves. After all, when there is an abundant supply of anything, its value is greatly reduced, and words are no exception.
“I will listen to a complaint, but I will not listen to a complainer.” My husband has adopted this motto for anyone he has the responsibility to lead. He means it too. He is a great leader because he is a good listener, and he is almost always willing to help figure out a solution to valid complaints. But like most people, he is likely going to lock himself in his bedroom or hide behind his desk if he sees a complainer coming. If you want to be heard and taken seriously, you must use wisdom when deciding what hills to die on because even the most patient people don’t want to climb every one of them with you.
Relationships have been forged through fire over the past few years. Lockdowns forced us into smaller groups, and almost 100 percent of the time, those groups, being mostly family, contained people who generally agreed with our way of thinking. I think being constantly surrounded by support and approval and being locked safely away within the confines of our own homes may have stunted our ability to hear and consider disagreement, and it definitely gave people a measure of courage they previously lacked. It is an ill-found bravery that has caused way too many to abandon all filters from their speech. But hear ye, hear ye…. That will NEVER work in a healthy, civilized society. Words are not cheap! “Life and death are in the power of the tongue…” (Proverbs 18:21). Their cost should be carefully considered before they are hap-hazardly tossed into the face of those with whom we disagree.
People did not follow Abraham Lincoln simply because he said pretty words. They followed him because by the time he said those words, the masses had already witnessed his life lived with integrity, and they knew his words matched his actions. They could believe he would follow through on what he said because they had consistently seen him do it in the past. That’s what made them willing to follow him. Even Jesus said, in John 10, when the people were ready to stone Him to death because He claimed to be God, “Don’t believe me unless I carry out my Father’s work. But if I do this work, believe…” He knew his actions would back up his claim. Those are always the people whose words have the strongest impact. If words and actions don’t match, words will have no influence. If they are used too frequently, the speaker begins to sound like Charlie Brown’s teacher, (“WHAA...WHAA...WHAA,”), and they lose their value.
Use wisdom when choosing words. Use restraint when choosing causes. And let a life lived with integrity back you up when you speak. If you can’t do all those things, shhhhhhhhhh.