I was recently reminded of the fact that words and actions, even innocently spoken or carried out with little forethought, can have far-reaching and unforeseen influence on others.
Our family had recently watched a DVD of a Christian comedian that had us almost rolling with laughter on the floor (and our family is large enough for that to take up all available floor space in the house). Our sons thought it so hilarious in fact that they enjoyed quoting various bits of the comedian’s monologue for days afterwards. I knew that they were overdoing it, however, when standing by the bottom of the stairs, I overheard my four-year-old daughter shouting to her brothers, “Rock and roll, man! Rock and roll!”
Excuse me! Was that my little girl? Uh, oh. She was starting to sound “gnarly”.
The funny thing is that she was simply imitating her brothers who were imitating a comedian who was doing a parody (that is, a satirical imitation) of someone else. Of course, most of the time, the ripple effect of imitation doesn’t necessarily mean that one will forever adopt a quirky saying as one’s own… but sometimes they do stick.
My grandfather, for instance, would frequently throw out a snappy, “Thankyatoomuch!” when expressing his gratitude. It was a favorite “pet” saying of his and now I sometimes find myself repeating it in a light-hearted moment.
As another for instance, a friend of ours whom we’ve not seen in years, had the habit of saying the expression, “I appreciate you and what you’ve done” (or some variation of “I appreciate”). Only with his accent, it always came out, “I appreeeceeate….” Now, whenever I’m inclined to use the word, I think of our friend and will sometimes even alter my own pronunciation of it (without thinking about it). So, if you hear me or my wife say, “I appreeeceeate…” something, you’ll know that we’ve been reminded of our friend.
Of course, one can pick up negative influences as well as positive or harmless ones. I would go so far as to observe that whole patterns of violence and hatred can be not only passed along, but ingrained and enlarged in subsequent generations due to our propensity for personalizing ideas, teachings, and habits that we glean from others. Racism is an obvious example, but there are countless ones that are less obvious: remarks are made in jest that are picked up by another, are internalized, and then are acted out by the next generation.
For good or bad, all of us have at least informal “mentors” who have influenced our thinking and very possibly our lifestyles as well. Maybe these mentors were parents or grandparents, teachers or preachers, friends or neighbors.
But because not everything we pick up automatically is necessarily worth “picking up”, we are wise if we weigh our thoughts and attitudes carefully. Just where do my ideas and assumptions come from? Are they true? Are they really what I want to portray? How do they jive with the Word of God? Are the attitudes of my heart pleasing to the One I call “Lord?”
We are also wise if we weigh carefully our own words and actions lest we pass on to others the things that a follower of Jesus wants least to pass on. Hateful attitudes, contempt for others in need, arrogance, laziness, a lack of self-control are all things that we probably know hurt the name of Christ. Why then should we, out of carelessness, plant the seeds for these things into the hearts of those whose lives we influence?
After all, “the lips of the righteous nourish many, but fools die for lack of judgment” (Proverbs 10:21 NIV).
At our house, we often equate the things we say with superhero powers. We quip accordingly to one another, “Let’s use our powers for good and not evil.” So should we all recall that the things we say have great power and that they may make enough of an impression on someone else that he or she imitates us, even in our most unguarded moments. May we, as God’s ambassadors, be very careful then to use our powers for good. Let’s give God our mouths and let Him use our tongues for His glory. May the attitudes that we’ve “picked up” be rooted in the grace and hope that are revealed to us in God’s Word, and may we be channels through which that grace and hope pour into the lives of those that we influence most.
“What you have heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit Who lives in us” (2 Timothy 1:13-14 NIV).