This week I have been pondering how our words have an effect on others. I received a particularly long and nasty message in my email inbox from someone this last weekend that was… well, not happy with me. The weird thing was, most of their statements on my beliefs and actions were false, but what they had to say about my attitudes were… let’s just say I am changing and growing in those areas. Not fast enough for most, I am sure, but I don’t disagree that I need work. But that is not the big thing that got me pondering. The night after this email came in, my wife and I found ourselves diving for the floor as a gun fight / car chase broke out behind our house.
Now, don’t freak out – we live in a safe neighborhood. There is a major road behind our house that sees a lot of random traffic, so this was probably just something random that will never happen again. But two speeding vehicles were shooting at each other, the last four bullets being shot off 30 feet behind our back door. Other than hurting my arm while hitting the deck so fast, every one was okay.
But what really struck me is that if something had happened to us, this email would have been this person’s last words to us on Earth. If I were that person, I couldn’t live with myself if that were the case – no matter how much I hate someone, no one deserves to hear mean, angry, condemning words about themselves.
“Your mission, if you choose to accept it…” The odd thing about the Mission: Impossible movies is that you always know that ultimately the mission will be possible. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be making the movie. But I guess “extremely difficult mission” doesn’t have the same ring to it.
In the Church, it seems like our “mission: impossible” really is impossible: to love everyone unconditionally. Jesus even told us that it is not that big of a deal if we only love the easy-to-love people or the ones that are just like us. We are to go so far as to love our enemies.
In all honesty, I don’t know if I have any real enemies. I’m not the easiest guy to get a long with, but I don’t think anyone would go so far as to label themselves as my enemy. But on the other hand, it is kind of a cultural no-no to be the “enemy,” so maybe it is just a difference of semantics. But the point is, if I am supposed to go so far as to love someone that would identify themselves as an enemy, everyone else that doesn’t go that far would most definitely fall into the “love one another” list.
A huge problem with our society is that we think it is okay to say harsh things to someone if we think it is true: “insensitive,” “arrogant,” “know-it-all,” “cruel,” “ridiculous,” “demeaning,” “rude,” “mean,” “ignorant,” ‘irritating,” “disappointing” (and those are just the words that I have found used today on Facebook alone… I can’t quote what I have read in blog comments today just because I want to keep this blog G-rated as much as possible).
I used to have a commitment that I have slipped up on a lot recently. Even if it was true that someone was arrogant or mean or a total jerk to me, I wasn’t going to call them that. No one deserves to be called those kinds of things, no matter how much we hate them.
Because, let’s be honest – you can only speak those words out of hate.
“Be careful of your thoughts, for your thoughts become your words.
Be careful of your words, for your words become your actions.
Be careful of your actions, for your actions become your habits.
Be careful of your habits, for your habits become your character.
Be careful of your character, for your character becomes your destiny.”
We have all heard this saying (the Bible says the same basic thing: “for as he thinks within himself, so he is“). I would write an additional version of this statement:
“Be careful of your thoughts of others, for your thoughts become the words you say to them.
Be careful of the words you say to others, for your words become their actions.
Be careful of your words to others, for your words can become their destiny.”
Our words have an effect on others. We can speak love or hate, life or death.
So that is why I try to apologize when someone says they were offended by what I said. Even if I think they are wrong to get offended, even if what I said might technically be true. A while back I called someone a few serious names, and several people (including this person’s spouse) agreed with it. But I don’t want to speak hate and death into someone’s life. It is only through encouragement that we can get people to improve. So I apologized.
But I have found that this is a hard stance to take. I have asked people not say certain things to me and was accused of being “too sensitive” or “reading too much into it.” I have pointed out words that people have said that I find hurtful, and then they just ignored it and never even wanted to discuss it.
Because of this, I have noticed over the past two years that I have been giving up on my commitment to not treat people as if they are bad, but to see the hand of God in everyone’s life no matter who they are. I have slipped up and said honest words that did not match up with the words that God would have used (His “truth in love” is usually so much more encouraging than what we choose to say when we speak “the truth in love”). I gave up on unconditional love and labeled it as a true mission impossible.
“Tough love feels a lot like mean” – Brittany Pierce
Many years ago, I sat through some incredible teachings on communication. The main lesson was that you do not speak your feelings about someone as if they are personality traits for that person. For example, instead of saying “you are mean and rude,” you would say how you feel: “I feel like you are being rude to me.” The idea is to change from saying “you are ___” to saying “I feel ___.” In other words, you take responsibility for how you feel (because God is the only one qualified to accurately describe someone’s personality), instead of pointing accusatory fingers at others.
People are very complex. Saying “you are an annoying person” is too easy to shoot down logically. We all have people that like us and people who don’t, people who find us fun to be around and those that find us annoying. Saying “you are” is an absolutist statement, and they only have to show one case where it is not true and they defeat your entire point. But if you speak of how you feel in an argument, they can’t debate that. They can ignore or dismiss it (which many do), but the big issue is that they can focus on how their actions made you feel rather than descend into defending their character. If there are a lot of people defending their character and actions to you – that is a good sign that you might need to change how you communicate. People don’t want to be around those that make them feel like they have to constantly defend their character.
“But!” you say – “you don’t know how condescending, how annoying, how difficult that guy is!” I can imagine, and it is probably true. They probably know that it is true, also. Do you really want to add to the chorus of condemnation that is ringing in their head all day long? Or do you want to be one of the few that spoke life and peace into that person’s life?
Also, think about this: do you really think that person is like that all the time? I mean, we at best spend an hour or two with any one person per week or even per month. People are complex beings. If we were to be honest, we would never, ever say “you are ____” because we are in no way qualified to say that about anyone. An honest statement would be “you are a complex person that I have no right to say any thing about because I am not around you 24/7.”
Whoever we hate, whoever we don’t get a long with, whoever we don’t want to talk to, whoever we don’t want to mess with … Jesus loves them, gets a long with them, wants to talk to them, doesn’t mind the mess. The mission does seem impossible, but we are called to try. Your mission, if you choose to accept Jesus, is to love unconditionally. If you are caught not being loving, Jesus will disavow any connection to those actions. Your message to world with self destruct if you can not choose otherwise.