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Polarizing Words

I think knowing details about other people’s lives makes us feel less isolated—you know, more connected. Sharing details about other people’s lives makes us feel important, like we know something others don’t. Or, sometimes sharing negative things about other people’s lives makes us feel more normal—we think, “At least I am not as weird, crazy, or messed up as that person.” Sometimes it seems like we have this insatiable need for validation and somehow transferring value from someone else to ourselves creates this false sense of value.

The easiest way to transfer, or rob, this value from someone else is to criticize or cut them down. We probably do not always realize that our criticism is rooted in this need for validation, but I am fairly sure there is a connection. I am also fairly sure there is a connection to pride too; which is also connected to our identity and our need for validation. We criticize because tearing someone else down makes us feel better about ourselves.

We also criticize because we believe we have it figured out—whatever the “it” is. “They have it wrong and I have it right.” At least that is what we tend to think. Therefore, it is our duty to criticize their way of doing things until they figure out that they should just submit to our way. The problem with doing this is that it feeds polarization which breed isolation. This happens in marriages, friendships, and, sadly, churches. We create sides and set up a fortress to defend our side. All the while criticizing and gossiping as if we are campaigning to attract supporters.

I know this is true because I have seen it in the church (and in marriage). People disagree with something and tend to feel that they are God’s gift to the church and that their mission in life is to criticize everything until everyone sees it “their way.” This creates disunity—which is like a disease in the community. So long as there is a strong sense of disunity a community, relationship, team, marriage, or a church will never be as healthy as it should be. Furthermore, we will never be as healthy as we should be so long as we are active participants in the war of opinions. In part, because we are either: 1.) acting out of some sort of identity deficiency or 2.) out of our self-righteous pride.

Paul talks about this in his letter to the church at Corinth. He writes,

“But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ.  I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way?”

(1 Corinthians 3:1 – 3)

He goes on to talk about them being the temple of God and how His Spirit dwells in them. This is typically the verse people use to argue against destroying your body. Which, I believe there is biblical precedent for not destroying your body with drugs and undisciplined habits, but this verse is really not the one to use. The “you” in this case is plural and the context surrounding the verse has to do with the lack of unity in the church, the community (Much of Scripture is not intended to be interpreted from our Western, individualist mindset. Many other cultures have a greater sense of community than we tend to, but that is for another future blogpost). What Paul is saying is “you all are the Body of Christ and His Spirit dwells in you. Stop causing division and tension that is destroying the community—or else you will reap the consequences.” That is my paraphrase, but his point is clear: the unity of the community is vastly important and we should not be participating in anything that causes disunity.

Something I have noticed about myself is that I am usually able to identify when other people have this problem of gossip or criticism, but I am typically oblivious to its presence in my own life. When I recognize that I am being critical of something, I tend to justify it. Right now, the church at which I am now serving is undergoing some changes. Everybody all of the sudden has become experts on church growth, preaching, worship, and theology. In all honesty, it is quite frustrating sometimes—even hurtful.

Then I was reminded of times when I relentlessly criticized a teacher, professor, manager, or church leader myself. Ouch. Being reminded that I am no better than the people I am frustrated with is a sobering reality. I confess that I have embraced pride, contributed to gossip, and cultivated division. I want to be more careful in the future about what I say to other people and about other people.

Mother Teresa is quoted as saying, “Words which do not give the light of Christ increase the darkness.” I think we should speak words that give light. I think we should find validation in our relationship with Jesus. If the Creator of the universe has accepted me, then why do I need to fight for my right to be right? Why do I need to criticize others? Why do I need to gossip? I hope you will decide to speak words of light and life with me. I think it would help cultivate healthier relationships with the people around us. What do you think?

When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent. Proverbs 10:19

With his mouth the godless man would destroy his neighbor, but by knowledge the righteous are delivered….Whoever belittles his neighbor lacks sense, but a man of understanding remains silent. Whoever goes about slandering reveals secrets, but he who is trustworthy in spirit keeps a thing covered. Proverbs 11: 9, 12 – 13

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