Weighty Words

I wrote (but never published) this nearly two years ago.

Words matter.

“Nick” was a great student. Bright, outgoing, popular, a really good kid to have in class. Except, it always felt like he was sort of distant with me. I couldn’t figure out why we didn’t connect, so one day I asked him to stay after class.

When I asked if something was bothering him, he stared at the desktop. I pushed a bit and finally he blurted, “You teased me!”

I was stunned. I honestly had no idea what he meant, but with a bit of prodding he recalled a conversation on the very first day of school. I made what I meant as an innocent, smart-aleck comment as a group of boys entered the room. “Nick” was in that group, and my sarcastic comment touched the exposed nerve of a sensitive personal issue.

One offhand, careless remark. That’s all it took to unintentionally place a barrier between us. I apologized, and of course he knew I didn’t mean any harm. But the damage was done.

Words matter.

I tried to be careful and intentional about the way I spoke in the classroom. Not saying I was perfect. I apologized a few times and I’m sure there were others (like “Nick”) I missed. But I had a platform, and when you speak from a platform (whenever people are listening) your words matter.

I’m thinking in the context of the alarming increase in hate speech, online bullying, and public verbal and physical attacks, all under the cover of “freedom of speech.”

“No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers. A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.

(Luke 6:43-45)

Now I have a different sort of platform. This blog and social media. The FREEDOM TOUR. My comments won’t trend on Twitter or go viral, but that’s not important.

You have a platform as well. Social media, your kids and grandkids, coworkers, friends.

You and I don’t get to claim “freedom of speech” without also accepting responsibility for the consequences of our words.

Doesn’t mean we’ll always get it right. And we may not always say what others want to hear…that would simply be pandering. Leadership means you and I using our influence to say and do what’s right, even when it’s difficult.

But we don’t get to step onto our platform, however large or small, say whatever we want, and pretend we’re not responsible for the impact.

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