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Saturday, August 28, 2010

What I'm Reading Today: James 3

Twenty-two years ago, I was fascinated with a cultural phenomenon that broke into the homes of many Americans.

That phenomena?

The television show "Roseanne".

I call it a phenomenon because it went places that most Americans were unwilling to go at the time. It showed people engaging in conversations – actually talking about topics that hadn't been discussed publically by most shows of the time. It helped put to rest the notion of the perfect, "Leave It to Beaver" family that had dominated the airwaves for decades. In other words, the television show was "real" in ways that other television shows hadn't been. For those reasons I loved the show and its controversial star.

While I loved many, many, many things about the show – there was one aspect of the show that I didn't necessarily love. The aspect had to do with the star of the show's propensity for saying the very first thing that came to her mind in order to get a laugh. There were many times when that first thought that came to her mind was appropriate – for it helped cut through the niceties and get to the tough work that needed to be done. There were other times, however, when the first thing that popped into her head was incredibly devaluing of other people and circumstances. If I were to summarize the problem I had with Roseanne's way of behaving, I would say I felt it undermined our ability to discern what was helpful and what was not helpful. Saying the very first thing that popped into your mind became the only thing that mattered.

In the past twenty-two years since the show first aired, folks have picked up on that theme and run with it. In fact, in many cases we have come to admire folks who always "speak their minds." As a result, we have individually and collectively paid quite a price for embracing such an across-the-board approach.

When we listen to talk shows, for instance, many of us are no longer bothered when shock-jocks feed us a steady stream of derogatory language about a person or a group of persons. We accept it as their First Amendment right to do so. When we listen to political programs, we no longer value information. Instead, we tend to fall prey to the individuals who simply talk the loudest or make the boldest claims. Even when we talk with friends or family members these days, our focus is now primarily – if not exclusively – focused on those unfiltered thoughts or feelings we feel as if we need to get off our chest. Little attention is given to what sort of effect those unfiltered words might have on our loved one. I could go on and on listing the effects of completing losing sight of our filters, but I won't. I'm sure you get my point.

Thankfully the book of James is there to invite us to think about the ways in which those filters can still be of value. As the author so wisely notes, "A word out of your mouth may seem of no account, but it can accomplish nearly anything – or destroy it!" Wise words indeed!

I don't think those words are encouraging us to completely censor ourselves and avoid anything that is difficult or uncomfortable talking about. Far from it! For I think words of truth-telling can be an incredible way of "accomplishing nearly anything." What those words do remind us of, however, is that those same words have the ability to "destroy anything" as well. We have to be wise enough to sit back and weigh the power of our words and ask ourselves, "Am I about to use these words to accomplish something or destroy something?" Once you ask yourself that question (and honestly answer it), that question can put the rest of the conversation on an entirely different plane.

Today as you go about your business and interact with people, ask yourself that question often: "Am I about to use these words to accomplish something in the relationship, or am I simply using them to destroy?" That question might save you – and your loved ones – a lot of grief.

Til next time …

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