Saturday, October 5, 2013

The Forgotten Virtue

Recently I had occasion to spend time with a couple of people who have an unfortunate tendency to run at the mouth. It's a peculiar and uncomfortable feeling to be in the company of someone who has no control, no filter, on the things they say. It's like watching a terrible traffic accident happen before your eyes and you are powerless to stop it.

"Life and death are in the power of the tongue," says Proverbs,"and those who love it will eat it's fruit." This is true in both the positive and negative aspects. If we are temperate with our tongue we will enjoy positive results. Conversely, if we are intemperate, we will eat the bitter fruit of the damage we wreak. We don't really appreciate the truth of that until we see living examples of it, for good and for ill, in action.

Our words are the common coin of our relationships. For those who bridle their tongue, who choose their words with wisdom and who speak words of life giving affirmation, the fruit they will enjoy will be unshakeable relationships and the joy of seeing loved ones bloom through their other centered encouragement.

Not long ago I heard someone say that perhaps the foremost characteristic of a wise person was "gentle power under control." Time spent with such a person is refreshing and lifts you up. They speak judiciously from a deep resevoir of quiet yet humble confidence and the choice words they share are offered thoughtfully and with loving care. Such people, whether consciously or not, have learned the priceless value of a lost virtue in today's culture: discretion. We are, as a people, woefully lacking in discretion these days. Have you checked your Facebook page or Twitter today?

For those with no restraint on their tongue, their world revolves around themselves, being as they are infinitely impressed with the value of their own opinions. Like an unruly child unleashed to rampage through a glassware shop, they careen from buffoonish opinion to unsolicited advice to tactless disparagements, all suffused with an ample supply of generally worthless blather. Time spent with such a person is mentally draining. The power of their tongue inflicts wreckage ranging from mere annoyance to deep hurt. The fruit they will eat from their tongue is to live in a colorless world devoid of meaningful relationships, because others distance themselves from such a loud mouth. Sadly, the antagonist is usually cluelessly unaware of the relational poverty in which they live.

An interesting correlation: Those with a wise and temperate demeanor tend to speak quietly and gently; those who prattle tend to be loud.

Upon reflection, I think I can reduce most of the need for control of the tongue to one simple axiom: Not everything that enters your brain should exit your mouth.

To be fair, we all, myself included, have had plenty of times when we regretted things we have said. The mark of a growing person though, is that they are conscious of the need to exercise discretion in what they say and ask God to grow them in this area. James says that such a person is mature, because if a person has learned to control their tongue, then every other area of their life will fall into line.

If we sought mightily for maturity just in this one area, if we truly valued discretion, we would go a long way toward growing wise and virtuous in all areas of life.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Outside of Ourselves

When I was old, I admired clever people. Now that I am old, I admire kind people.--Abraham Joshua Heschel

Recently I finished off a business trip to Dallas by changing my usual route home, steering instead toward a small town and a cardiac rehab facility to see an old friend and business associate. When I sold for a radio station in Dallas in the late 1980's he was my manager. Now he was in cardiac rehab having received a triple bypass operation the previous week. I had not seen him in 22 years. I didn't stay long because he was having a tough day during his recovery. Just found out about his condition, a very brief recap of his life since I'd seen him, recalled a couple of memories, then left him to rest.

Over my lifetime I've visited many people in the hospital, but since my heart attack two years ago, I've sensed an increased burden to reach out to people in the midst of crisis and suffering. When, in August of 2011, I lay on the emergency room table with a cardiac team briskly working around me to save my life, I did not fear death, but I realized I still had so much more I needed to do with the life God has given me.

My work ethic and "type A" personality are terrific tools for business, but ill suited for the unselfish intentionality needed to make relational investments in others. So to make a difference in people's lives beyond the material pursuit of increased sales, I have to choose each day to see with new eyes and allow God to cultivate an "other centered" point of view. At the end of my life will I look back and wish I had closed one more proposal, accomplished more ROI for a client's marketing campaign, worked just a little more on finding new prospects? Or will I, instead, wish I had slowed down long enough to notice those around me who quietly grapple with sickness, family break up and any number of heart cracking traumas common to us all? Will I not regret that I didn't show Christ to a dying world around me?

Since then God has given me opportunities to minister to such people. In reality, He merely opened my eyes to see needs that were there all along. Why did it take so long, and why a life stopping crisis for me to step out of my own world that I might enter into the worlds of others?

On reflection I realize that two things are needed to see with such new eyes. First, we must free ourselves from the "tyranny of the urgent", the nattering responsibilities, deadlines, ringing cell phones, chirping text messages, appointments, all shrieking for attention and dulling our senses to the more important yet far less shrill needs surrounding us.

Here's a first step toward this: the next time you are in face to face conversation with someone and your cell phone rings a call or chirps a text, don't answer it, and in fact, don't even look at it. Give full attention to the other person, finish the conversation or wait to get to a place where it is more appropriate to check the phone. Otherwise, pay respect to the person you are in face to face conversation with by devoting your full attention to them. Give more face time to the person than to the hectoring electronic tyrant in your pocket.

The second thing needed is to turn outside of self toward others. Be more interested in their world, ask more about them in conversation, talk less about self. Ask more, tell less. Finish the conversation knowing more about them than what they know about you. Then look for opportunities to be of help, to give a word of encouragement, to lift them up.

Two simple steps needed to change the world of others and as a result, change our own. Armed with this awareness and intentionality, no life jarring crisis should be needed to compel us to step outside of self and serve the needs of others.