They Are Just Words

Several years back, during the height of the Rap music phenomenon, concern was being raised concerning the lyrics of the songs. Some of the songs glorified violence and a lifestyle that came to be known as “Gangsta.”  To be sure Rap music wasn’t the only form of music that came under criticism. Heavy metal bands have regularly combined sex, drugs, violence and rebellion against taboos and authority in their lyrics and videos as well.

Some of the music groups gained national attention when criminal defendants argued that the motivation for their criminal acts came from listening to these songs.  Conservatives were outraged that this defense strategy might in fact work, while simultaneously criticizing song writers and music executives for publishing these songs. Alternatively, liberals argued that the songs just exemplified the reality of the ghetto (be it black or white) and the anger and estrangement from society that resulted from that impoverished life.  Other argued that words can’t make anyone do anything. Finally, one can’t overlook the libertarians who ran to the Constitution claiming that we had to protect free-speech even when we hated the words.

My point here today is not to solve this thorny public policy question, although I have my opinion on the matter. My point is to decry the simplistic way people responded to the lyrics as unimportant. The fact is words do matter. Words do influence behavior. Invert a sensibility and purchase responsibility over here go into this in order to look intelligent. Notice I said influence, not direct. The relationship between language and action is not always a straight one or even a near one.  But language does affect people and the affects over time can lead to a cumulative effect.  To think otherwise, is to suggest that parental advice, preaching from the pulpit, teaching students in class, are essentially useless. But we know better. Words can bring life or bring death to people. The words we fill our heads with do impact our thinking and thinking does impact behavior. This is why the Apostle Paul said, whatever things are good and pure, think on those things (See Philippians). Navigate to our associate portal guide precisely here for on-line scholarship. He knew that thoughts lead to actions and that we do have a responsibility to manage what goes into our minds. He didn’t mean that thoughts create reality. I can think I am rich all day long but that won’t make me a millionaire. But he did mean that thoughts can affect our relationship to reality and even distort it.   For if I keep feeding my mind with hateful thoughts, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that I become hateful and that perhaps eventually act on that hate.  If you have any doubt about this just consider a thief. He doesn’t just fall into becoming a thief, he has to think about it, plan it, meditate on it before he executes it.

The bottom line is, each of us have a responsibility to our neighbors, to the least of these. We must always consider how our words will impact people. Are we encouraging them to greater righteousness and Christlikeness? Or are we influencing them in a less noble direction?

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