My lifelong friend and I still remember sitting on the avocado, burnt orange and harvest gold plaid sofa in her folks’ house, making fun of MTV videos. We were your basic 80’s teens, glued to cable TV on your basic Friday night, homework untouched, beef and broccoli and fried rice with an egg roll, sarcasm, criticism and snide remarks overflowing.
Could anyone believe that dress color, her hair, his jacket? We couldn’t. We enjoyed volleying insults, aimed not at each other, but at the multimillionaire musicians, not much older than ourselves, that entertained us. We were secure and superior in our judgements. Looking back, we were also smug and unkind.
Somewhere along the way, we both learned that sarcasm wasn’t a virtue, that carelessly wielded criticism could maim, and that kindness was really our Christian aim. How these truths evaded us for years is amazing, but they did. Those fluffy-haired, generously made-up pop stars never suffered from our words, but old habits die hard, and real-life people could. We found that out, and now cringe at our younger selves, relieved that the TV had no feelings.
Somewhere along the way, we both learned that sarcasm wasn’t a virtue.
Enter social media, or any media, in fact. “Empty words” abound. One click can lead to unfettered judgement, character assassination, and cruel commentary. Even Christian websites can be scathing toward people, activities and opinions that Scripture never bothered to address, forbid or condemn. Are we, as Christians, held responsible for empty words that are in print, with cute or eye-catching graphics? We are.
I recoil at the thought of how my friend and I might have shared our MTV comments with the world, had the technology allowed us. It bothered us not that we may have offended her brother. We thought these words were harmless, not realizing that we were establishing attitudes and habits that died hard. Criticism is habit forming and character numbing. It may be socially acceptable, but it’s not the way of Jesus.
Is sharing our opinions wrong? No. But sharing them without regard for opposing opinions, and respect for their adherents, is unwise. Proverbs 18:2 bluntly states, “Fools find no pleasure in understanding but delight in airing their own opinions.” If you would like to give your opinion on what the schools are doing wrong, or what other people shouldn’t eat, or even on politics, you may, of course, remembering that you could be clanging.
We thought these words were harmless, not realizing that we were establishing attitudes and habbits that died hard.
I’ve opened emails and posts, answered phone calls and been in conversations that clang. We may even cringe, internally, when we are on their receiving end. The Holy Spirit may tug when we begin to engage in such words, ourselves. We need to beware of them.
It goes without saying that social media etiquette could improve among Christians. I bring it up because it's beautifully illustrative of how we dialogue in general. Some of us have critical spirits and we don’t realize that we put things and people down more than we build them up. I admit that I struggle with this. I know it with certainty because my children act like my friend’s brother did. If I criticize, they catch it. I don’t like it when they do this, but I need them to do it.
Every now and then I will start a high school class, as a teacher, challenging the students to say something kind to someone that day. All of us are torn down by people around us. Let’s swim upstream! Let’s build people up! Do it as a matter of course! I Thessalonians 5:11 tells us to keep it up; “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.”
It takes a lot of nerve to be critical of criticism.
It takes a lot of nerve to be critical of criticism. I apologize and sincerely don’t mean to offend. Not everyone has a bunch of young adults filtering their words, like I have. Some of us just don’t realize what we are doing. A person has to be highly intentional about encouraging other people. A person has to be intensely aware of what he or she is saying in order to not criticize.
I assure you that I’m still working on it, about 40 years later. If we all weigh our words and try to conscientiously filter out those that will one day be weighed in as “empty,” we could change the world. We can make people’s days. We would be instruments of good, not harm. With the Holy Spirit’s guidance, God can use us to do a lot of good, through our words.