A History Lesson. . .
Some years ago while driving from Indianapolis to Columbus, Ohio for my cousin’s wake; the Lord kept me busy learning about “words”! Not so much words per se; but the importance of words and how we use them.
Scripture says that the power of life and death is in the tongue. We can use it for good or evil. We can use language to define or destroy. We can order our words into sentences and paragraphs that encourage, enlighten, inspire. . . or demean, deride or demand. Ultimately, the choice is up to us.
What the Lord taught me during that long drive to and from was that words are living things. Scripture also teaches that same truth. Words carry meaning to both the speaker and the spoken-to. What they mean to me is defined by my history with them as it relates to past and present experiences. What they mean to you (or the one spoken-to) is defined by your history with them. . . past and present.
This may sound insignificant, but trust me it is not. The power of life and death is indeed in the words we use and how we order them when trying to convey our personal meaning to each other!
The Lesson Driven Home!
Equally a while ago, I was staying with friends following an auto accident from which I could not drive for several weeks. I rode to work and back with my college friend for several weeks and enjoyed the camaraderie we had when students at IUPUI. One evening we engaged in a spiritual and theological discussion. As the evening wore on and the conversation grew more intense; the lessons learned while driving from Columbus, Ohio and back were intensely driven home.
I tried telling my friend my personal experience with Jesus as Lord and Savior. Each time I tried to find the right words that would not bring about tears to her eyes and an angry response; I was at a loss. I simply could not find the right words that were not theologically abhorrent to her. Tempers flared and the more I tried the angrier and more distraught she became.
“It’s semantics,” I said!
“No”, she cried. “It’s my personal experience with those words!”
What tumbled out next was a history of abuse at the hands of male leadership of the small missionary church her family attended when she was growing up. Every phrase I used to convey my experience and the truth thereof was a phrase she had heard spoken through the sensuous slurs of men intent on violating her. The relationship with the Lord I had come to know as powerfully loving and cleansing had been sullied by pious a-holes holding themselves aloft as holier-than-thou men who actually had no spiritual character at all!
A professed believer in God the Father, my friend could not accept the need for a Savior because of the sin of men who professed to be men of God. Every word I uttered was alive! Each one had a life of it’s own in the life and history of my friend. And her tears were verification of what the Spirit taught me on that long late night drive to and from Columbus, Ohio . . .
Fast Forward . . .
I’ve been learning to write letting the Spirit of the Lord lead in my choice of words and sentence structure so that the meaning I put on the laptop is His meaning; not my own. This sense of direction began earlier this year and I’m just now beginning to get a grasp on how important it is in keeping communication as pure and clean as possible so not opportunity for misunderstanding. Over this past weekend, I got a vivid glimpse of how important that is. And perhaps how we reveal our true motivations and attachments in how we word communication with each other. . .
Did He Mean It That Way?
Without going into great detail and belaboring a point; a situation has arisen in our home community that is not pretty (to say the least). Folks who are less than honest are engaging in destructive behaviors that demean and degrade others; myself included. The tragic aspect is that at least one of the folks has a narcissistic personality who is very good at ‘dividing and conquering’!
At a meeting last week, a dear Christian friend of mine for nearly 40 years cast doubt on what I’ve been reporting as the challenge with which we are dealing. His attitude had the ‘flavor’ of the narcissist I know he encounters in other local meetings. I was grieved and concerned. But the real clincher was how he worded a request for a meeting of our group with her. His request began like this:
“Hi (name), I asked (name, Linda & name) about a good time and date that would be compatible with them to meet with you and me to hopefully go forward with (name of organization) in a collective movement. . . “
Since my friend is part of the group that includes name, Linda & name, I found it disconcerting that he did not include himself in our committee group rather than attaching himself to the person with whom he suggested “we” meet to solve organizational challenges! Here’s how I would have phrased the ask:
“Hi (name), (name, Linda, name and I) would like to meet with you to hopefully go forward with (name of organization) in a collective movement. . . ”
Nit-Picky, or More To It?
The two communication approaches have very distinctly different messages. One says the group asking to meet is the 3 women whose names appear in the 1st line of the email, and they are asking to meet with my friend and the organization leader.
The other one says the committee which is 3 females and a male friend have asked to meet with the organization leader.
Since narcissists are very good at dividing and conquering, especially long-term tight friendships they can turn to their advantage; the choice of communication structure may be more than just a difference in use of language.
I’m sure my friend would not recognize the difference and tell me I’m being ‘nit-picky’. But my gut reaction when I first read his request tells me it’s a less self-aware person being less aware of how his alliances are lining up.
The “so what” is how the power of life and death is in the tongue. Or in the case of computers, email and 21st Century technology; in how we write what we write. The words we choose and how we arrange them on the screen. They can and do define meaning and give either life or death to existing relationships. They have the power to develop new relationships or shut them down before they get started. They reveal that which is hidden, even from ourselves when we are unaware of how we use words and phrases.
Has a long-time friend linked up with an adversary who is less than honest because he’s not astute enough to know better? Does he really not respect the sensitivity in the Spirit of how he is fond of labeling me.
Or am I just being a silly nit-picky female making a spiritual mountain out of a molehill of his own making?
What do you think?
Linda S. Fitzgerald, M.S.Ed, CEO & Visionary Partner
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