It could certainly be argued that any impact Christianity is having on American culture is largely by God’s grace – in spite of his people, not because of them. – George Barna, Vital Signs, 1984

“Claude Lemieux was considered one of the best clutch players of his time, but he was also one of the most hated for the way he got under the skin of opposing players and for crossing the line to dirty play.” 1 In professional hockey, it was no secret that Lemieux would do whatever it would take to win and move his team a step closer to the Stanley Cup. He was one of only a few players who earned the Stanley Cup with three or more teams. 

In 2016 Foxsports listed Claude Lemieux as one of the dirtiest players in the NHL. Lemieux, in his mid 40’s and father of four, relished the title of the most hated player in hockey. As physical sport ice-hockey is, Lemieux would often destroy players emotionally by merely using words. Taunting, ridiculing, and mocking them until he would achieve his desired result. The emotional turmoil he would inject into opposing players could never be calculated or weighted in terms of broken bones, lacerations, or concussions, but the injury was just as real. 

Kerry Fraser, a well-respected hockey referee, told of a time when the tables were turned on Lemieux as he was in the midst of a divorce with his wife. “He [Lemieux] was also going through a bitter and public divorce. During one playoff game, an opposing player goaded Lemieux by referencing his divorce and estranged wife. During a stoppage of play, Lemieux skated up to Fraser, visibly shaken with tears in his eyes, pleading with him to tell this player to stop. Fraser notes that no physical injury could have stopped Lemieux in his quest for the cup. Yet verbal taunts not only took him off his game but emotionally unraveled him.” 2

Every one of us has the power to build up or tear down those around us. I have a good friend that is in the process of reconciling with his wife. What he has learned and is now watching transpire is how a single word or phrase can throw the healing process into a tailspin. His wife had tools, but they were not what he needed. At times she used saws for sheetrock, plyers for planks, crescent wrenches for carpet, and no matter how hard she tried, it seemed to make things worse. Thankfully both of them have realized this and are using the proper tools to aid healing and further reconciliation. Words spoken between them are words of encouragement, blessing, comfort, trust, and support. 

Proverbs 15:4 “The soothing tongue is a tree of life, but a perverse tongue crushes the spirit.”

In my weekly bible study group, we have been working through the book of Ephesians. Paul spent over two years (Acts 19:10) in Ephesus, a commercial center in Asia Minor (now Turkey). The church there prospered for a time but later needed encouragement and guidance. At times this is something individuals, families, churches, communities, and cultures may need.

Ephesians 4:29 “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”

A few weeks ago, I walked among some protesters in our small town. Most had signs decrying the death of George Floyd. I saw many former students, so I gave and received multiple hugs. To me, that was the best part of my day. Whether I agreed or disagreed with their agenda was irrelevant at that time. I was not attending to change minds but rather observe and participate in ‘keeping the peace.’ This is not a post about ‘Black Lives Matter’ or ‘All Lives Matter.’ Everyone is inundated with opinions, evaluations, and conclusions on this movement. This is about how words matter and the importance of listening to the heart of those who are sharing.

Hebrews 10:24 “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds…”

Protests are inherently informative; they don’t usually educate. When a protest tells you what they believe, then you have been informed. When a protest tells you why they hold a view, then you have been educated. This distinction is important because you generally will not be changing minds at protests. Typically, demonstrations are much too heated for reason and sensibility to prevail. 

The purpose of a protest is to bring attention to a particular issue or problem and influence public opinion. Ideally, then the protesters gain a seat at the table and create change. Much of the time this is accomplished by fueling a particular agenda with emotion. You certainly will not be changing minds with signs like ‘Fuck Trump,’ or flipping off and yelling obscenities at the local law enforcement, a common occurrence at the BLM protest I attended. Nor will you change someone’s mind by reviving your motorcycles so loud you drown out the chants of the protesters or flipping them off and cursing at them. At times it morphed into protesting the protestors by being louder than they were. It was clear, communication between the groups was not on anyone’s agenda. I observed all of that at our local protest. Nevertheless, it was peaceful, and for that, I was quite thankful.

Chris Voss, a veteran FBI negotiator wrote, “Most of us enter verbal combat unlikely to persuade anyone of anything because we only know and care about our own goals and perspective. But the best officers are tuned in to the other party – their audiences.”3 In high-level negotiations, this is called ‘tactical empathy’, understanding the feelings and ideas behind the actions of individuals. One way to do that is to name or label what someone else might be feeling or expressing.

In a study on brain images, one professor at the University of California found that when people are shown faces expressing strong emotions, the amygdala is activated, the same part of our brain that regulates fear. Then the same people whose amygdala was lighting up because of the emotional pictures are asked to ‘label’ or name the emotion they see in the picture. That simple activity in the study moved the brain activity from the amygdala to the areas that govern our reason and judgment. 4 Can you take a moment and label what someone is trying to express? Can you consider what someone feels before you respond with a pithy or insulting answer? 

Anyone who has been married for any length of time knows that what is ‘fact’ is irrelevant when his wife is feeling unloved. All that matters is he deals with her heart; the use of facts or truth might be better reflected on later. The same is true for a man who feels disrespected or disregarded. Yes, that is politically incorrect, but it is also true. There are differences between men and women and how we support each other emotionally. 

The other day my daughter-in-law Annie (one of the kindest and sweetest girls I know, yes I am biased) posted something on Facebook that others found objectional. One person told Annie she should be ‘ashamed.’ Then went a step further and asked Annie, not to ‘pro-create.’ Can you imagine if Annie was a woman who, for some reason, could not have any children? Imagine what that kind of comment might have felt like to Annie. The power of words. 

Shame cripples. Shame can paralyze and crush those who believe what that emotion is telling them about themselves. To speak those degrading words into someone’s life is not only thoughtless but cruel. That is another example of someone not only ‘not listening’ but making an attempt to silence someone. To take away their words. Worse, take away someone’s words unless they echo their own. No empathy, no effort to really listen and understand what someone is trying to communicate. Words matter. 

Psychologist Dr. Golden writes, “Shame, when toxic, is a paralyzing global assessment of oneself as a person. When severe, it can form the lens through which all self-evaluation is viewed. As such, some words used to express the emotion of shame include feeling insecure, worthless, stupid, foolish, silly, inadequate, or simply less than.”5 Have you ever spent any time with someone that struggled with toxic shame? Someone who feels ‘less than’ everyone else around them? Whether or not the reasons are factual for their feeling that way will have to be dealt with, but what is important is that others recognize they are feeling that way.

Hebrews 8:12 For I will be merciful toward their evil deeds, and their sins I will remember no longer.

Psalm 103:12 As far as the eastern horizon is from the west, so he removes the guilt of our rebellious actions from us.

Colossians 1:22 but now He has reconciled you by his physical body through death to present you holy, without blemish, and blameless before Him.

I will not even begin to claim an understanding of all the current turmoil within our culture, but can only share my thoughts. I will not address the obvious political intentions that some have concerning the current movement. I will not address the violence some perpetuate and encourage. I want to address the words.

The motto, ‘Black Lives Matter’ is an exclusive statement because it addresses black lives only, and frankly, I believe that is the point. The slogan ‘All Lives Matter’ is an inclusive statement because it includes all lives (all colors). Unfortunately, when some hear ‘Black Lives Matter,’ they assume exclusivity and completely miss the heart of the message, which is about black lives, not all lives. Again, that is the point. Perversely when others hear ‘All Lives Matter,’ they feel disregarded, ignored, and misunderstood but also miss the intent of what is being communicated. Yes, words matter and are necessary for communication, but without listening, words are worthless, much like a canteen void of water in the desert. 

In another study at Princeton University, researchers found that when people listen carefully, that is, they observe another’s expressions, body language, tone, and other clues their brains begin to align with who they are listening to. Researchers call this ‘neural resonance.’ In an MRI brain-scan experiment, they realized once a level of neural resonance was achieved, the person listening could predict what the other was going to say. Empathy does not mean you agree with someone, but it can mean you have a level of understanding that might give you clues as to what moves them. 6

Voss writes, “It all starts with the universally applicable premise that people want to be understood and accepted. Listening is the cheapest, yet most effective concession we can make to get there. By listening intensely, a negotiator demonstrates empathy and shows a sincere desire to better understand what the other side is experiencing.”7

We are all negotiators in this life. We negotiate with our spouse, our boyfriend or girlfriend, our children, our extended family, our friends, neighbors, and those we meet every day. Some even negotiate with their cat, (or their dog if they want to be more successful.) If there is communication, you will find negotiations. What do you want another to understand? What is your priority when you listen to someone? Are you just waiting to get your turn, pseudo-listening? Do you just look for or post questions on Facebook to disagree? I have been doing more listening then posting. My perspective has changed some as I listen, not only their words but their hearts. As I try to label or name the emotions some express, I keep coming back to the same words—broken heart. If you were surrounded by broken hearts, what would you do to start the healing? What would you do to show Christ’s love He commanded? John 13:34-35 A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.

James 1:19 Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters! Let every person be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger.

Psalm 34:18 The Lord is near the brokenhearted; He saves those crushed in spirit.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay


The Power of Words by James W Glazier is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Sources:
  1. Kurtzberg, Brad. Ranking the 10 Most Hated Players in NHL History. Bleach Report, bleachreport.com, Jul 12 2013.[]
  2. Muehlhoff, Tim. “Reclaiming the Power of Words.” I Beg To Differ, IVP Books, 2014 p.26[]
  3. Voss, Chris. “Don’t Feel Their Pain, Label It.” Never Split The Difference, Random House, 2016, p.52[]
  4. Greg J. Stephens, Lauren J. Silbert, Uri Hasson Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2010 Aug 10; 107(32): 14425–14430. Published online 2010 Jul 26. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1008662107 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2922522/[]
  5. Golden, Bernard. “Overcoming the Paralysis of Toxic Shame” Psychology Today, Apr 22 2017 https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/overcoming-destructive-anger/201704/overcoming-the-paralysis-toxic-shame[]
  6. Voss, Chris. “Don’t Feel Their Pain, Label It.” Never Split The Difference, Random House, 2016, p.53[]
  7. Voss, Chris. “Don’t Feel Their Pain, Label It.” Never Split The Difference, Random House, 2016, p.16[]
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