Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Do As I Do...or As I Say...?

There is a song that is included in the musical, "My Fair Lady" where Eliza Doolittle sings to her teacher, Henry Higgins, that begins with "Words, words, words!"  Then she begins to sing, "Don't talk of stars burning above, if you're in love, show me!"  The remainder of the lyrics to the song, "Show Me" talks about how much people say but how little they put into action.  The entire musical had been about words, about how Higgins could teach Eliza to speak as a proper English lady should.  Many times the words she spoke were used to deceive others into thinking that she was a proper lady rather than the "gutter snipe" that Higgins believed her to be.  When she pulled off the ultimate deception aided by Higgins and company, they celebrated while she become depressed thinking that she would be thrown back into the life she had left to be part of the great experiment that Higgins did with Eliza as guinea pig.  The song, "Show Me" comes at the end when she has become totally exasperated by the conceited teacher she had fallen in love with.

How much power do words have?  How much do most of us allow them to shape us or cause us to become what the words say we are?  In this current political election cycle, some use the word "conservative" as a badge of honor while the word "liberal" is made a term of derision.  In some circles it is exactly the opposite. Do we become what the words say we are when we hear the words that some use to describe us often enough?

There is a term that is used to describe people who become what others say they will become--"self-fulfilling prophecy".  The term means that when you predict that someone will become a certain way in life and that person hears your prediction enough times, then he/she will become as you predicted.  It is not that you had the gift of prophecy in making your prediction.  It is that the one you were talking about heard what you said enough times, that they became convinced that they were as you said.

Children often mirror the things that adults say about them.  Most of us have seen the plaque or picture that contain the short discourse called, "Children Learn What They Live".  It was written by Dorothy Law Nolte in 1972.  In case you don't recall it, it begins..."If children live with criticism, they learn to condemn.  If children live with hostility, they learn to fight..."  The writer continues to list both good and bad attributes of humans and makes the point that children become what the adults in their lives model for them.  The lives adults live around children teaches them how to live.  Positive, loving lives help to develop the same kind of children.  Negative, destructive lives teach those values also.

The epistle writer James makes the point in the first chapter of his writing, "But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers, who deceive themselves.  For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like." (James 1:22-24).  Doers of the word are people who attempt to put into practice the words that they have considered constructive in life.  In modern language, "they walk the walk, not just talk the talk."  Doers are people who demonstrate through daily living what they sincerely believe is important in life.  If they believe that people should be kind and forgiving and loving, then they attempt to live that out in the way they treat others.

A professor of mine in seminary said that when he lived in a large city that had a subway train, he often used it for transportation.  When the train was above ground, you could look out the windows and see all the views in the city and surrounding area.  When the train went underground, though, when you looked at the window all you saw was your own reflection.  He said that when one looks at the "word" (what one believes to be important in life) then you see yourself reflected in those beliefs.

Words do have a power of their own.  What we think about others shapes our view of them.  The words we use to describe others have the power to lift them up or put them down.  God help us to live lives that demonstrate what we truly believe and not just talk about them and then live in away that does not mirror our actions.  Looking at ourselves in light of what we truly believe in life brings about lives of truth and wholeness.

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