Talk radio is what happens when entertainment and civility loses. I’m painting with a big brush here so make whatever qualifications you need to but after you’ve done that, I think the truth will remain that, on the whole, the medium currently trends toward the following values:
- scoring points is more important than treating people with dignity,
- pursuit of ratings (read: money), is placed ahead of pursuit of truth,
- shouting is preferable to speaking,
- being reactive is better than being reflective (it is more important to generate heat than light),
- being smug is superior to being understanding,
- obnoxiousness seems to be the default personality setting.
Of course, you can always turn off the radio, but that’s not what I’m after here (and it ultimately doesn’t address the real issue). The mentality behind talk radio seems to have seeped into other areas of our culture. If you read the comments section after many posts on the web (news, political, sports or otherwise), you know it often doesn’t take long for them to deteriorate and quickly be off topic and off color. And even though there are shows with the talk format that practice civilized discourse, they tend to get lost in the shuffle because our taste for the controversial seems to be greater than our appreciation for the civil. We may not (yet) embrace the rude, crude, and the lewd as values, but we are more than willing to be entertained by them!
This drift toward verbal abrasiveness is unfortunate because in the end what we say and how we choose to say it impacts people (usually more than we realize). The “sticks and stones” approach that works so well in nursery rhymes doesn’t hold for real life. “Reckless words pierce like a sword,” (Proverbs 12:18). “Through the blessing of the upright a city is exalted, but by the mouth of the wicked it is destroyed,” (11:11). And on it goes.
But that’s not even the whole issue. What comes out of our mouths is a reflection of what’s in our hearts. James implies this (James 3), and Jesus says it directly (Matthew 12:34). Think about what you’ve said over the last twenty-four hours, the past week, or even the past month. Whether we like it or not, our words don’t lie—they reveal who we really are. If we’re spewing venom and using our words as weapons, it says something about what’s inside us.
In light of all of this, James’ counsel is that we be “quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry,” (1:21). In The Message, Petersen has it this way, “Post this at all the intersections, dear friends: Lead with your ears, follow up with your tongue, and let anger straggle along in the rear.”
But flip this for a moment and think about the positive difference disciples can make with their speech. When we clear our hear hearts we clean our words and they become tools for good—much good. “The tongue of the wise brings healing,” (12:18). If abrasive speech causes harm, wise speech brings wholeness. We can say things that positively impact people and make an eternal difference.
With all of that in mind, we should mind our mouths.