In the sermon this morning, Rev. Debra so wisely talked about being cautious about how we talk to people (and about people, for that matter). It reminded me so much of what Stephen Covey said about "Seek First to Understand, then to Be Understood". In other words, if we don't know where people are coming from and we make assumptions, we can often use words that might be hurtful and even unwarranted.
So, I thought I might dissect this phrase: Mind Your Words.
MIND: Let's start with the mind. Starting here implies that I am cognizant of what I am saying. I am using my brain to pause when necessary and to re-think phrasing I use that might be taken out of context and possibly be offensive to someone. Does this mean we walk around on eggshells? I think not. I believe it means that we are aware that we are not the only people on the earth, and that we share this earth with people who have different beliefs than our own. On Christmas Day, we participated in an Inter-Faith Worship event. We had people who spoke, sang, played instruments, and story told from religious sects such as the Muslim Community Center of Tucson, a local Jewish congregation, Tucson's Ba'hai community, the Tucson North Stake of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Church of Science, and finally our own Episcopal Church of the Apostles. One of the coolest moments for me, personally, was when the Muslim sheikh said the words "As-salaamu Alaikum" which in Arabic means “May Peace be unto you.” And, after working with schools across the nation in the last few years, I have learned the proper response for this Islamic greeting is, “Va-alaikum As-salaam” which in Arabic means “Peace be unto you too". Ummm.... this is exactly what we say in our church, and I know most Catholic and Episcopal churches do the same. Wait a minute....we are saying the EXACT same words, just in a different language. That just touched my soul, deeply, to think about that connection to others. So, why do we let our minds try to convince us that we are so very different, and that if people look, talk, or worship a bit differently than we do, we need to reject them and their beliefs? As our priest said, we were likely looking at the Kingdom of God when worshiping together on Christmas Day---- with people from so many different walks of life. My theory has always been that our infinite God is like the world-wide web. That is our goal to get out to the internet. But we just each use different internet providers. We may actually change providers at times in our lives, because our needs and wants change, but no matter what, we are getting out to "infinite God".
YOUR: This word seems pretty self-explanatory, right? But within that four-letter word, there is an implication that I am responsible for my own transformation. In fact, I believe that it is only by allowing my "self" to be emptied before it can be filled with the Holy Spirit or any other new ideas that might have been rejected before if I was not open-minded enough. Richard Rohr, in his book "Yes, And.. Daily Meditations" (Rohr, 1997) that two dear friends of mine have been reading from and texting about on a daily basis since last May, talks about the small self (the one that relies on the ego, whether boosting me up or convincing me I am not enough) and how it can often overtake us. Instead, in order to become more Holy or even a larger part of human understanding, we need to allow ourselves to become more of our "authentic" selves (what God had long ago designed for us, in the first place). Chris Sligh, who finished 10th on American Idol in season 6, sings in "Empty Me":
"Empty me of the selfishness inside
Every vain ambition and the poison of my pride
And any foolish thing my heart holds to
Lord empty me of me so I can be filled with You"
Click on the "Empty Me" link above. I promise it's worth a listen.
What does this mean to you? For me, it means that I simply must be willing to lose the "poison of pride", in which I either think too much of myself or or think of myself too much. Either way, I need to let go of those foolish things so I can be filled with the Holy Spirit and new ideas, whether personal or professional.
As a connoisseur of words, I have always been interested in communication. How do my words impact you? How do your words impact me? Why is it that, on a certain day, Dave might say something to me that flies right past me, when the next day, he might say the exact same thing but it hits me in a totally different way? I believe that is because true communication is the transmission of a message between a sender and receiver. That implies that at least two people's human natures are going to be involved. Each of us transmits messages and receives messages differently, depending on what emotional state we are in. I have written articles, taught workshops, delivered keynotes, and written a book specifically on communication, and this is what I know: I still get into situations in which I could allow the use of one word to either wreck or make my day. The blessing is that I get to teach graduate students who are typically teachers who are hoping to become school leaders one day. I try to model for them that their words matter. Their written and verbal communication matter, immensely, to the general public. I use the example that, if a principal were to write the word "principle" when talking about themselves, the "ballpark talk" (as I refer to it when groups of parents talk about what they see going on in their children's school) is going to eat that principal alive. I tell my students that I am trying desperately to save themselves from such a fate.
What words carry heavy connotation to you? "Social distancing"? What about "woke"? Do they offend you? Do they bolster you?
I am so very hopeful that the people with whom I work know how very much their words mean to me. When I teach a workshop filled with administrators or teachers, their feedback in post-session evaluations are taken straight to heart. Yes, there are outliers who say things like, "The coffee wasn't good. They should get Starbuck's next time", but I have learned to ignore the outliers and focus on the "mean", for the most part.
What does it mean to you to "Mind Your Words"? I would love to hear your thoughts. And, by the way, when I say this, I truly mean those words I say: I REALLY would love to read your comments. It helps me become a better communicator and thinker. God bless you, Rev. Debra, for giving me such food for thought to dissect three simple words from your sermon. I'd love to conclude by sharing a video that epitomizes this concept that words matter. I use it in multitudes of workshops I teach.
Happy Communicating to all,
Yesterday, Dave and I returned from a week in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, which I affectionately call my "happy place". Why? It is where the Sea of Cortez meets the Pacific Ocean, creating a tremendously gorgeous turquoise water color combined with massive waves (it is rarely okay to go swimming in the water, but it is perfect for sitting on the beach, sitting by the pool, or lying in bed with the doors open---listening to the crashing of the waves). We got on the plane headed back to Tucson by way of Phoenix (don't ask), and within two minutes, we heard two couples griping at each other ("don't squish the hats!" "I wanted the window seat!" "Turn down the fan! It's blowing in my face" (okay, that last one might have come from me)). Dave and I looked at each other, and whispered at the same time "Vacation is apparently over". Certainly, most all of us have witnessed this same phenomenon at Disneyworld or Disneyland (you know, the happiest place on earth) when family members gripe at each other.
Today's sermon was about kneeling before God and others while standing up for what we believe. But what do we believe? What if my belief is different from your belief? It seems that, lately, that happens a great deal. Families and friends that say they love one another argue vehemently about political figures, even saying nasty things to one another on Facebook or in person. Loving God and our neighbors sounds pretty simple, but it apparently is not easy. Simple but not easy. Why? Because, for some silly reason, we believe that if we say we are right, then you who hold a differing belief must be wrong. I am but one voice, thought. You may not agree with me, but I do have that one voice that is mine and mine alone. I hope my voice is one of humility, but I believe that is not true, all the time. Why? I allow your voice that doesn't agree with mine to get my hackles up. And then, somehow, you are no longer just unique in your perspective but you are wrong.
What would happen if, instead of responding to one another's differing opinions with venom and ugliness, we simply responded with kindness and respectfulness? "How can I kneel and stand at the same time?" was the theme of our dear Rev. Debra's sermon this morning. Of course I have the right (and often a duty) to speak up with courage if a wrong is being done, but I pray with my heart and soul that I do that out of respect for others as human beings (after all, I think I am called to respect all humanity) instead of speaking to degrade someone else's beliefs? In fact, I think others' views might simply be considered unique versus wrong. Instead of arguing, what would be the problem with simply asking the other person whose views raise my hackles, "What is it about __________ that makes you uncomfortable?" or "What views about _______________ mesh with your own views about humanity?" OR.....I might even say Dave's and my favorite line for one another, "You know, you might be right about that" even if we might not totally believe it at the time. In other words, how do I behave in relationship with those with whom I abjectly disagree?
After all, the last I checked, God is God. I am not. I would, however, like to live in accordance with the way God would have me live----in harmony with my fellow man, with humility and integrity.
What about you?