The world has a lot more angry people in it than I once thought; this is one of the things the Internet has taught me. “Don’t read the comments section” is a sad but true reflection on the state of dialogue and discourse in public space these days. Discussion so quickly regenerates into personal attack and insult; people are categorized and pigeonholed and dismissed without a second thought. Yes, I know this isn’t the whole truth, but it is true nonetheless, and it’s discouraging.
What can I do?
I follow the ‘One Year Bible‘ in my daily readings, and each day it includes a short selection from the Book of Proverbs. I often enjoy these short, pithy sayings and find their observations to be surprisingly relevant. Here are two verses I’ve read recently:
‘Fools show their annoyance at once,
but the prudent overlook an insult…
The words of the reckless pierce like swords,
but the tongue of the wise brings healing’ (Proverbs 12:16, 18 NIV 2011).
Here are my two ‘take-homes’ from these verses.
First, I don’t have to take everything to heart. I don’t have to take offence at everything. I don’t have to notice every little slight, every little insult.
Years ago when my daughter was in college she was working on a group project with a couple of other students. One of them was rather fond of the word ‘issues’. She kept saying, “I have issues with this project” or “I have issues with this argument”. Eventually my daughter exclaimed “I have issues with all your issues!”
‘Fools show their annoyance at once, but the prudent overlook an insult’. I don’t need to be trapped in the endless cycle of insult and counter-insult. I don’t need to make an issue of everything. I can be the one who shows forbearance, the one who thinks before they speak, the one who gives the soft answer that turns away wrath (to give another example from Proverbs). No, I am not always this person, but I am going to make an extra effort to learn to do this.
Second, I should make it my goal to heal rather than to wound.
Yes, some people need wounding, some people need rebuking, some sins need pointing out and bringing into the light of day. I understand that. But I’m also doubtful of my motivation. Is it really righteousness and justice that I’m zealous for, or is it my own ego, my own wounded pride?
Words are not just words; they make things happen. That’s what’s so scary about the international political system right now. A huge amount of power has been transferred to people who are not careful with their words. That’s scary, because wars have begun over misunderstandings and insults.
There’s enough of that going on; I don’t need to add to it. All other things being equal, I want to be the bridge-builder, the healer, the one who helps bring an increase in understanding and sympathy between people. Jesus says, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9). I think the world today has enough angry and violent people. It needs more peacemakers, more healers, more people who think before they speak, and speak gently and considerately. Lord, give me grace today to be one of those people. Amen.