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02 September 2008

Rationalizing Our Words

Sometimes a phrase will mean one thing to us and something else entirely to another person.

The first recording I engineered from start to finish ('way back in the late 80's, when we actually had to use grease pencils and razor blades to splice things and had to flip the reel-to-reel tape around backward when we wanted to make cool, trade secret special effects like reverse reverb) was of a band called Aces 'n' Eights, and the song they recorded (yes, just one song) was called "Runs, Runs, Runs."

I don't know if I really need to elaborate on that much further.

Sometimes this kind of faux pas can go in the "Whoops!" category, which will hopefully make it funny (like the example above).

But as we move from childhood to adulthood, I've observed that we begin to realize that all situations are not necessarily black and white, and as a result we can fall into a snare of rationalization that has us massaging a particular set of words or circumstances to give an impression of one thing so that we'll be technically accurate, but can gracefully sidestep the real truth. It's a conscious effort at first, but the more it's done, the more we begin to think that this is somehow acceptable. Very dangerous ground for someone who claims to walk in the Truth!

This is where we begin to climb into one of the many limbs of hypocrisy, and it doesn't end with just words. Here are some everyday "rationalization situations" (I think Jesse Jackson needs to use that phrase some time...):

  • "Oh, no! I forgot to finish this spreadsheet! I'd better see if my buddy Joe dropped the ball on anything so that I can hint that it's his fault! I won't come out and say it's his fault -- that'd be lying."
  • "They just wouldn't understand if I told them the whole situation." (This statement has validity sometimes; depends upon when it's said.)
  • "I told my buddy Joe that I couldn’t have lunch with him today because ‘something came up.’ Now I’ll have to find a far-away restaurant to eat lunch with Fred (the thing that ‘came up’)."

I believe what happens is that we learn to manipulate situations and conversation instead of speaking the plain, pure truth. Just as faith like a child does not involve hedging one's bets, living with a pure heart does not involve deceit.

Does anyone want to live a life
    that is long and prosperous?
Then keep your tongue from speaking evil
    and your lips from telling lies!
- Psalm 34:12-13 (NLT)

Given all this, what happens when we're presented with a situation in which someone asks us, "Does this outfit make me look big?" and we actually think that it does make them look big? How do you edify without lying?

  • "This food is tasty [but it tastes horrible!]." (thanks to Tony for bringing this one to mind)
  • "No one can sing quite like she can [thank goodness!]."
  • "Your son's performance on the test was unbelievable [-- you can tell he didn't read the book.]."


Jan said...

good post Dean. It's hard to be totally honest sometimes because I do fear hurting others. So I choose to say nothing at all if it's something small or if I know it's going to cause a real blow up and maybe it's not my place anyway. I'm learning and growing in this but it's not easy.

I've also had too many people "speak the truth in love" and machine gun everyone around them in the process. Didn't feel real loved by that. This is what I call "negative learning" - learning from how someone else did something BADLY makes me want to avoid all appearances of it.

I hope I don't skirt the truth if asked, but my fault is in perhaps staying silent when I should speak up about something.

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