In our media-saturated world, everyone seems to have the right to be openly vocal with their opinion of others, happy to expose the faults of others. When Jennifer Lawrence slips on the red carpet, Ellen deGeneres has a good laugh at her expense. There's a lot of pointing out the specks in others and ignoring our own logs.
We can be so ready to jump on the bandwagon to endorse or tear someone down. The tragic death of Charlotte Dawson, the Australian model and TV personality is a current example of how someone can be immortalised overnight as a media darling, as soon as any tragic circumstances hit. Before the news of her ghastly suicide, Charlotte was just another attractive celebrity, searching for and building her identity through the public eye, hungry to know what people had to say about her – the good and the bad – well-publicised through her apparent constant use of twitter.
While this tragic set of circumstances might bring the topics of cyber-bullying and depression to the public sphere for a couple of weeks, it also is a sad reminder of the power our words can have…and our fickle loyalty – our ability to create a post-death mystical persona for someone – literally after we have degraded them and pulled them down through constant negative speculation.
Working in PR with the media, I see the power that words have to build up or destroy... it was well-publicised when Charlotte Dawson warned 17 year old singer and celebrity newbie, Lorde, of how living in New Zealand – alongside the constant pressure of the media – could 'crush a spirit'.
I recently heard on a podcast, 'If you can't say something nice, then think of something nice to say.' This alternative version of Thumper's infamous phrase from Bambi has got me thinking. How easy is it in that moment of frustration – or going along with everyone else's opinion – to choose to have a different point of view?
Many of us know the power of the tongue and how it can build up and destroy. The bible specifically reminds us that in one moment we can be praising God with one breath and then the next minute, with the same tongue, we curse men and women, our brothers and sisters (James 3 verse 9). The sharpest object in our bodies becomes one that is often the hardest to control – the tongue.
And if we do say nothing at all, can still be damaging, giving off vibes of disinterest? Clearly it's better than responding in a negative way – and we still have to purposefully choose not to say anything hurtful or degrading. Training our tongue and our mind to think of something nice to say would surely be the best outcome rather than some awkward silence!
James 3 verse 11 asks us the question – 'Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.'
I don't like the idea of producing muddy water…but I know that last night in church, I raised my hands, and my words praised God. However in the office today, there were times when I held my tongue – some times when I chose to build something or someone up, but I also know there was an occasion where I chose to ignore that nagging in my heart and not speak well of something. And this verse is speaking to me – that when I speak ill of something, I'm not producing fresh water….Eek. Wake up call for sure.
Especially as in my mind, I want to be the person in my office who consistently chooses to say something kind and edifying about a person. That when faced with a challenging work situation, that I am the person who always chooses to view something positively and optimistically, coming up with solutions instead, encouraging others around me. There's a reason Paul said, 'Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing' (1 Thessalonians 5 verse 11).
This isn't just for Christians to give each other high fives, but for those who praise God to use their tongue to build up everyone in their world. If our hearts and spirit are right, then good fruit is produced, and good words are spoken.
2 Timothy tells us that God gave us a spirit of love and power and of self-control (or sound mind). If we have self-control over our words, then we are living in God's spirit of love, power and self-control. But if actually our words control us, then we are accepting something that is not God's spirit and desire for us, and opens the door for a spirit that is not of God to change what our spirit is.
Words can crush a spirit – Charlotte Dawson was painfully aware of that – and we need to be too, building people up around us, not pulling them down. The crazy thing I'm reminded of though is that it's not only the people around us who suffer but when we are speaking ill of something but we end up spouting salty water, mixing it all up. If we choose our words each time – choosing to say something nice – then its way more likely that our vines are going to be producing grapes – we'll be producing fruit for ourselves and growing healthily in our walk with God.
Amanda Robinson is originally from The Lake District in the UK where her sister Rosie resides. Amanda works in Publishing in Auckland and is passionate about seeing Christians bring salt and light into the media, arts and creative industries. Amanda wrote this article from London when on holidays (PSI would like to see Rosie become a regular writer).
Amanda Robinson's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/amanda-robinson.html