I’ve spent the past four years of undergraduate study watching my words. Watching them add up to dizzying heights, then seeing them ruthlessly culled before deadlines. Seeing the term “word count” is enough to make me break out in a cold sweat. Now that I have graduated, I am increasingly aware of another, more serious way where I have to watch my words. As I sat down to pen this article (of course not literally, I am part of the keyboard crunching Generation Y after all), I drew a blank as to what I should write. All I knew is what I shouldn’t write. Being all too aware of the far-reaching, easy-to -trace and impossible-to-erase nature of posts, blogs and online articles, I was wary of writing a piece that would be highly controversial, less than constructive and completely out of my area of (limited) expertise.
This cause for concern is not all that unreasonable. By now, most of us watch what we share on social media, taking steps to ensure our private lives stay just that, private. However, a rise in blogs and online communities, like Current, means we now have a (very) public platform to engage with issues that are important to us by expressing our views through online articles. Unlike with other platforms of dialogue, such as verbal debate and discussion, our views are instantly recorded and, in essence, immutable. At the same time, we, the communicator, have the benefit of time and careful proof reading to form our words and present our thoughts unlike in verbal debate. For these reasons, we must be wise in our approach to online articles.
As young Christians, these online platforms are an invaluable way to engage with contemporary debates, providing a Christian perspective to complex social, cultural, legal and political questions. If these forums continue to inform opinion and shape culture, and they inevitably will, we should not and cannot be silent. However, while the internet provides an expansive space for us to speak up, the Bible also challenges us to watch, or “measure” our words. (Proverbs 10:19 MSG). So, how can we engage in this dialogue while watching our words?
Stop and listen
‘Those who guard their lips preserve their lives, but those who speak rashly will come to ruin.‘ (Proverbs 13:3)
Holding our tongue seems wholly unnatural in our society where freedom of expression reigns (for the most part) and social media provides a relatively, unfettered means to exercise that freedom. However, we need to practice the discipline of listening before we speak up. Listen to the Holy Spirit for wisdom and discernment. Listen to those whom you trust, for honest and sound counsel. Listen to other perspectives, to challenge your view and strengthen your argument.
‘The wise in heart are called discerning, and gracious words promote instruction. ‘ (Proverbs 16:21)
No opportunity should be wasted in demonstrating grace and the love of God, especially when we are engaging in debate and dialogue in the public sphere. “Gracious words promote instruction” or, to put it in another way, gracious words lend persuasion and influence. Remember this the next time you think you’re losing the argument or someone disagrees with your viewpoint, choose grace not retaliation.
‘Moses answered, “What if they do not believe in me or listen to me and say, ‘The Lord did not appear to you’?’ (Exodus 4:1)
Once you’ve learnt to listen and be gracious, it is important to have integrity. Too often we mistake cowardice for discernment. We are called to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4: 15), even when we feel unqualified and it comes at great personal cost. Like Moses, when we learn to trust in God to give us the words to say, we can speak the truth boldly and fearlessly (Exodus 4: 11-12).
So watch your words… you don’t know who else will be.