Words Are Fiery

Just as some are in love with the idea of love but are unwilling to do the work of cultivating it, some enjoy being furious just for the fun of it. Their ire has no focused direction. They are ready to apply their anger to anything—or anyone placed in the crosshairs of their attention.

These are the trolls—the unconstructive critics. They are the ones you see always pointing a finger, but never lifting a finger to help and actually improve the situation they’re criticizing. They fan the flames of debates on Facebook and add fuel to the fire of hate on Twitter. Like verbal pyromaniacs, they take no responsibility for their acts of arson on social media. They just want to watch things burn—to make everyone angry at each other. They have no desire to see (or help) things become resolved.

Feelings are never wrong. Even anger has altruistic uses. But rage just for the sake of being irate is futile. If your anger doesn’t lead to action, I’m not sure you deserve to have it. You should act in your anger, not remain passive.

Let me clarify: When I say, “act in anger,” I don’t mean aggression or destruction. You can be angry without resorting to violence or harboring hatred. Your action can be to do something productive—serving as an advocate, educating, shining a light on lies, challenging prejudices, et cetera. Get your hands dirty with more than hashtags. Give whatever you possess—time, ideas (of the helpful variety), money, blood, sweat, or words weighed against truth and wisdom.

I can do very little with just your indignation. But if you couple it with information, perhaps I will learn something and change. Use your words to show me what I’ve missed instead of chastising me for overlooking it. Bring the marginalized stories to the forefront rather than reprimanding those of us who are unaware of them.

We’re so quick to—we get so much pleasure out of highlighting how others are wrong, that we often miss opportunities for mutually beneficial conversations. We all need to do more listening—and not from a ready to pounce position, but a posture of genuinely seeking to understand the other person’s (or group’s) perspective.

I’m confident that we’d all find more common ground if we interacted this way—listening to hear and learn instead of impulsively rebut or debate. Stop throwing words like grenades.

To give a recent example, consider the conflict over #BlackLivesMatter versus #AllLivesMatter. So much venom got thrown in either direction, and so much of it was unnecessary. Because unless “black lives matter” secretly means “I hate white people” and/or “all lives matter” is code for “black lives don’t matter” or “black people think they’re so special,” those two groups should be cooperative instead of mutually exclusive.

Good and well-meaning people have been scared into silence—afraid of being called racist. We are loosing our access to their thoughts and feelings, which means the discourse is lopsided. How can there be true reconciliation if the conversation is incomplete? How can I best plead my case if I don’t know the true contents of your mind—your real beliefs?

And let’s not get so hung up on language that the message is missed. If a child tells her father, “Feed me, doo-doo face! I’m starving!” The parent will address the language without ignoring the hunger that provoked it.” And if someone runs up to you screaming, “Oh shit! My house is burning down!” You don’t criticize her use of profanity. You call 911.

Yes, some words are considered unwelcome in polite company, but let’s not get so hung up on delivery or semantics that we ignore the message’s meaning.

I’d rather see everyone drop the mask of political correctness to reveal an honest heart. Real racists can hide behind polite language and those without nefarious intentions can be condemned for saying the “wrong” thing even if it is true for them.

Hence my call to listen. We can all learn something from each other—gain a broader view by walking in each other’s shoes. If I am really trying to hear you, and you me, then when we come to the table to break bread or debate (whatever the topic), we aren’t closed. We’re open to learning more—even if all we learn is how the other person sees or experiences the world.

You have the right to remain racist. (Though I hope you won’t.) My anger can’t change your mind—which is fortunate, because that’s not my goal. When I engage in a debate, it’s not to prove you wrong, but for the purpose of testing the boundaries of what I think. Can I walk away convinced of my initial beliefs? My hope is that we’ll both hear each other and thoughtfully consider our opposing arguments. Then we can each decide for ourselves if we want to cling to our convictions, change them, or just adjust them a bit.

That’s what I most love about a healthy debate. When done correctly, everyone walks away feeling heard and in some way changed. We can disagree without resorting to hate.

Before we throw our words at a group or an issue (especially if it’s to criticize), let’s remember that words have power and energy—like fire. And like a flame, they can warm, destroy, or illuminate. Let’s not jump to conclusions or to rage. Let’s give each other the benefit of the doubt and extend some grace. Few people want to be ignorant, insensitive, or racist.

If my words are fiery, I hope they are flames that enlighten. And if they must destroy, I hope they only burn down façades and falsehoods.

“Think for yourselves and let others enjoy the privilege to do so, too.” ~ Voltaire

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” ~ Matthew 7:1–2

Words Are Fiery

Let my words illuminate and inspire and not be irresponsible additions to the fire.

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