There have been many times lately where I thought I was supposed to be giving a lesson, but instead ended up receiving one myself. Sometimes it’s while I’m sitting to write for the blog, sometimes it’s when I’m being mom, and teaching my family, and sometimes it’s in ministry.
One Sunday morning, a few months ago I was serving in the 6th grade girls class at church. We were helping give the girls a lesson on taming the tongue. I wasn’t the one directly teaching that day, but I was part of helping with the illustration. It’s a good thing I wasn’t teaching, because the lesson being taught was one I needed to hear myself. The person who was teaching that day had two girls volunteer to race each other. Each girl was handed a paper plate, and a brand new tube of toothpaste. When the teacher said “go” the girls were instructed to squeeze out the toothpaste as fast as they could onto the empty plate, and the first one who emptied their tube was the winner of the first round. The girls squeezed and squeezed and within a minute or so, the room smelled very minty and a “winner” for that round was announced. The teacher then proceeded to the second round where she handed each of the girls a plastic butter knife an told them “now scoop the toothpaste back into the tube.” The girls tried for just a moment before being completely dumbfounded by the request. There began the lesson. Once we have said something, we can’t take it back. Trying to take back our words after they are said is like trying to scoop toothpaste back into an empty tube, with a plastic knife.
With technology as prevalent as it is, our words are often exchanged without ever passing through our lips. We communicate through text, email, and social media almost constantly, so much so it’s become an era where verbal conversation can be a rare thing. In person, face-to-face conversation is even more rare. When we do talk we have things such as Facetime and Skype where we can talk to one another without actually being together in person. Don’t get me wrong, I think Facetime and Skype are amazing things when physical presence isn’t an option but I think the lack of personal, human interaction has left a vulnerable space and created conflict generations didn’t have before this. When you eliminate in person interaction you eliminate physical cues such as facial expressions and body language to cue us how to proceed. Some of those things may be visible in Skype or Facetime but they are completely missing when our conversations are written. We can assume things are received one way or another and be completely wrong. We can have a certain intention or implied tone behind our written words but when you lack audible tone, even carefully chosen words can be taken the wrong way. There is also the flip side of impersonal interaction where we are able to speak more freely, without having to completely consider the consequences of our words. It may leave you able to avoid reactions or emotions that may be unfavorable for you.
The bible instructs us over and over again to tame our tongue, but I think we may not have realized that taming our tongue also includes taming our text, taming our email, and taming our social media posts or messages. Taming our tongue doesn’t mean to strictly be careful with what crosses our lips anymore, but to be careful with all of the ways we speak to one another.
I am not a confrontational person by nature, and I will generally avoid conflict of any kind even if it is a constructive discussion, if I believe that what I need to say will be upsetting to the person I’m speaking with. It’s usually not until I have reached my breaking point that I will explode with emotion and let my words have their own way. I have been told many times that I have a way with words, but if I’m being honest I will say that, that is not always a good thing. When I have reached my breaking point I can be very harsh, sharp, and cutting with my words, and the sad part is that I usually mean what I’ve said, even when I could have said those things more kindly. I have found that I generally express myself better (especially if I am hurt) in written word. I am usually able to construct my words carefully and season them a bit more, before letting them go. I must also say that, that is not always the case though. Sometimes being able to avoid face to face conversation or interaction leads to saying things more harshly than I would, had I had to look someone in the eye to say it.
I have seen lately that with the help of texting and social media, a new breed of “courage” has emerged and that has lead to a lot of hurt, division, and misunderstanding. That sort of conflict may be possible to avoid, should we choose to tame our tongue. I have seen that digital courage has lead to over-sharing details of our lives we might not share in a face to face conversation. (I have learned the hard way that I need to share a whole lot less that I have been.) I have seen that digital courage has lead to abundant and public criticism of others who don’t think the same way we do. I have seen that digital courage has lead to “tongues” running wild. I have seen texts or posts that have said things like “I’m just saying what everyone else was thinking!” We easily forget that not everything that is a thought, should be said. That is not what God has called from us. He DOES want us to stand up for truth. He DOES want us to defend what is right, noble, and pure. He DOES want us to band together with brothers and sisters, especially when facing persecution, but He instructs us over and over again how to do that.