Contrary to what you might think from my excessive use of the words awesome, like, and yeah, I believe that the words we use matter. Not so much how fancy they are, but how they make another person feel when we string them together a certain way.
Lets dive right into the example that inspired this post. I have a friend who is a very intellectual person. She approaches life with a very orderly mind. This can get in her way when she tries to connect with others. Being prone to the same thing, I set out to discover why. (Don’t I sound like a TV reporter? In my head the TV reporter version of me has a British accent for some reason.)
Let’s continue using my friend–we’ll call her Jane–for illustrative purposes. Let’s pretend that Jane read a newspaper article that said that orange juice from Florida had tested positive for some potentially harmful carcinogen. (This is truly hypothetical. Keep drinking your OJ.)
If she were going to tell me about this potential danger during one of our many conversations (in which we regularly talk about our favorite breakfast drinks), she would say something like this:
“Oh, by the way, you can’t drink orange juice anymore.” Then she would wait.
And I would say: “What? Why?”
Then she would tell me about the potential carcinogen and reiterate that OJ from Florida was no longer an option for me. I would leave this exchange feeling vaguely frustrated with her for some reason. With a slight feeling that she wasn’t someone I wanted to confide in on a deeper level. Over orange juice.
I know this sounds ridiculous. Stick with me here…
Before we continue, keep it in the back of your mind that we’re not really talking about orange juice. It’s a placeholder for any opinion. Whether we should vaccinate our kids. The dangers of homeschooling (or not homeschooling) them. How single people should behave in relationships with one another. Whether gluten is the devil or a miracle food. Anything you have a strong opinion about that doesn’t come directly from the Bible.
Okay, back to our example. When we left off, I was feeling frustrated and pulling back from Jane. And here’s what I realized. There’s a subtext implied in the OJ example. It’s well hidden in the way Jane delivered this seemingly harmless information, but I think it’s important.
Let’s break it down. (And you can sit in awe of my ability to overanalyze things…)
Step 1: Jane receives information and comes to a conclusion based on her own beliefs, preferences, etc. Apparently she’s pretty risk averse. Not everyone would change their behavior for a potentially-harmful-but-maybe-not-really carcinogen. Isn’t everything a carcinogen these days? But she’s a straight-laced kind of girl. You tell her it might be harmful and she decides that she’ll stop drinking OJ.
Step 2: She hears that I drink OJ.
Step 3: This is the kicker. She then had a choice. She could either (1) tell me the information she read and discuss it with me, allowing my preferences / experiences / risk aversion to factor into the conversation or (2) withhold the information she read and instead tell me that I can no longer drink OJ. She chose option 2.
By doing so she implied that (a) she didn’t trust my ability to process the original information and come to the “correct” conclusion (ahem, her conclusion) or (b) my own opinions / experiences were unimportant relative to her own superior judgement.
In reality she was probably just completely oblivious to how one-sided our conversation was. But even though she might not have intended to imply these negative things, I picked up on them. And I’m not the only one.
Regardless of our intentions, how we interact with people regarding the small, everyday things is all the data they have to guess how we’ll react regarding big, important, vulnerable things. If they’re put off by the way we discuss these trivial things, they’re never going to trust us with the important ones.
Whether you think I’m completely crazy for reading this much into this small example or not, what I’m saying is this: If our goal is to be in real community with one another–to invite broken people who need Christ to come a little closer so we can share with them the immense grace that God gives us on a daily basis–we can’t start by being arrogant about orange juice (or whatever other opinion of the day is our current favorite).
The little things matter. Is the way you’re communicating about them one that invites people to trust you with more?