Archives For personal responsibility

In the debate about whether we create or discover a writing voice, it doesn’t matter which side of the camp you land on. It’s generally agreed that a writing voice takes time to develop.

When I started a blog in 2013, I had no real idea how it would develop. My plan was to use the blog as a way of networking, and as a way of improving my own writing skills. In my post-graduate world, I wasn’t sure a blog would achieve either.

Looking back, I can see areas where I’ve succeeded, and I can also see areas where I haven’t.

In the areas where I haven’t succeeded, I can see one specific reason for it. I let a fear of being misrepresented by critics, influence how I wrote.

This stumbling block is illustrated by some of my earlier articles from 2013 and 2014. Those posts are unintentionally hard to read. Some were convoluted or weighed down by my attempts to navigate what Douglas Murray calls, the ‘dishonest critic’.

Overcoming this stumbling block has taught me how fear hinders free speech. Speech is paralysed through the fear of offending someone with the truth, or fearing that someone might deliberately misrepresent what has been written or said. Insecurity complicates intention. This fear messes up content, intention and limits the development of a writing voice.

Lindsay Shepherd recently made the observation that when we ‘try to answer a dishonest critic’ we fail to communicate effectively.

Citing Douglas Murray, she noted:

‘It’s hard not to sort of self censor in some way in this era, because everyone who’s a writer, speaker, thinker, or public figure is basically trained, (you train yourself or you’re trained) to learn, to write, or speak in such a fashion, that an honest person cannot honestly misrepresent you; that what you said is faithfully understood by decent people, acting in a decent manner. The era of social media, among other things, has caused something different to happen which is that many people are now, having to write, think, and speak in a manner that ensures that a dishonest critic, cannot dishonestly misrepresent you. There’s a problem with this: it’s not possible to do.’

At certain times in my life, I’ve found myself surrounded by ‘dishonest critics’. Criticisms from my parents, sister and some friends would sometimes include back-handed compliments. Along with snide remarks, criticisms padded with some half-truths, were designed to tear me down in order to pull others up. Sometimes these involved passive aggressive whip statements, and sometimes those criticisms were intense cross-examinations, where words were selectively chosen to steer an argument in a selfish direction; all designed to discourage, control and put down.

Growing up in this kind of environment has given me a greater appreciation for free speech and its consequences. Just as I can see the dangers in muzzling freedom of speech, I can see how some people would want to subdue it; force a straight jacket over it, and muzzle people from saying things that we disagree with or that can be harmful to us; such as the words of the ‘dishonest critic’ and their manipulative ways.

When it comes to creating content, writing and posting my own thoughts online, I was a clumsy beginner. I could have cried victim, for fear of the ‘dishonest critic’, and stayed there. Instead I’ve persevered, learnt some news things along the way, and made improvements[1].

I don’t blame any one for my own clumsy writing, but I can acknowledge the root cause of it. Only then am I able to rise, and be raised above it.

Insecurity complicates communication. When we try to navigate the ‘dishonest critic’, how we communicate is bound in a type of psychological straight jacket. This breeds uncertainty. From uncertainty (self-doubt) comes insecurity and eventually silence. We end up saying nothing at all.

This why I believe, that the area in Western society where Jesus’ commands to ‘turn away from offence, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you’[2], are most applicable, is freedom of speech.

Our response is our responsibility.

The Apostle Paul, in his Second letter to the Church in Corinth highlights personal responsibility in thought, deed and attitude, by encouraging Christians to remember that:

‘..the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ…’ (2. Corinthians 10:4-5, ESV)

Paul’s statement, ‘we destroy arguments and every lofty opinion, taking captive every thought’ means taking personal responsibility for our actions. This includes how we use free speech and respond to the speech of others. In acting without fear of the bureaucrat, or ‘dishonest critic’, we deny those who would shut down freedom of speech, the room to stifle freedom, and complicate communication by forcing what we say through a bureaucratic tea strainer, like political correctness.

If we can relearn the Jesus-art of turning the other cheek, and recognise that words are only harmful to us, if we let them have power over us, we don’t have to restrict, or stifle freedom by asking bureaucrats to police speech. As Paul said, ‘..the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds…taking every thought captive to obey Christ’.

This doesn’t mean ignoring the ‘honest critic’, making laws restricting freedom of speech, or refusing to take an assertive stand when wrongly accused, or misrepresented. What it means is that the freedom to speak, includes the freedom to listen, it implies room for self-limitation, and personal responsibility, because freedom of speech allows for honest rebuttal.

Jean Bethke Elshtain puts it this way:

‘Our ideas have to meet the test of being engaged by others, far better than having people retreat into themselves and nurture a sense of grievance, rage and helplessness…thoughts must be tested in the public square where you have to meet certain standards…we must be careful not to confuse tolerance with complete and total embrace…total acceptance does not mean universal love’ (Maxwell School Lecture, State of Democracy 2013).

Rather than limiting freedom of speech by advocating that free speech be forced through a bureaucratic tea strainer, perhaps we could keep this in mind. Even when ‘dishonest critics’, stand at the ready, with pen in hand, eager to pounce on any misstep, or easily misinterpreted statement, our response is our responsibility, their response is theirs.

 


References:

[1] For ‘the man who believes in the providence of God is distinguished from the man who does not, [by the fact that he does not rest his head on his own prudence], and is not too proud to be a continual learner.’ (Karl Barth, CD.3:3:25)

[2] Matthew 5:43-48, ESV

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©Rod Lampard, 2018

Elisabeth Elliot QuoteOne benefit of my upbringing is how deeply it instilled in me a passion for justice, a sense of empathy and the importance of personal responsibility.

Growing up, our next door neighbours were Indigenous Australians. Overall there was a heartfelt respect for those who struggled and reverence for those who gave their all for our current freedoms.

My parents benefited from welfare programs that enabled us to have a home, food and basic clothing. We also witnessed the darker side of a community when it goes from being a welfare dependent season-of-life, to being a welfare dependent culture.

Even though my agnostic-at-the-time parents were cultural Anglicans, my sister and I attended a Catholic Primary School, where we found ourselves part of a denominational minority.

We didn’t always fit.

We rarely owned brand new school clothes, trendy school bags or school shoes. There were also times when the schoolyard elite were more than happy to go beyond just verbally measuring our worth by my parents socio-economic situation.

Yet, God reigns. It is by His grace, that through these experiences, I can teach my kids about what it means to live in victory, not victimhood. Working through those experiences has provided me with a great deal to reach for when I’m teaching my kids about mercy, justice, fairness, compassion, and personal responsibility.

It’s a lifeline akin to the hope established by Joseph’s words to His brothers, ‘You meant for evil against me, but God meant it for good’ (Gen. 50:20).

Some great examples of this are found in African-American history. It’s here that a recent lesson began. Our starting point was Louis Armstrong’s ‘Black and Blue’, which then led to a few comments read aloud from Booker T. Washington’s, ‘Up from Slavery’ and an introduction to Abraham Lincoln’s ‘Emancipation Proclamation.’

From there I directed our homeschoolers attention to the lament in Bob Marley’s ‘Buffalo Soldier’. Introduced Martin Luther King Jnr. Talked about his assassination in 1968 and listened to some of his preaching. We then encountered the magnificent voice of Mahalia Jackson and identified some jarring truths found within the poetry of Maya Angelou.

Of historical significance, each document, word and song gives a different perspective. Each delivered through a unique text type. All expressing, through their very existence, the promise of those who chose, by God’s grace, to live in victory, not victimhood.

There the theological reality forms a solid ledge for us all to safely stand on. It’s established in knowing the difference between human triumphalism and God’s triumph in Jesus Christ.

We have victory because Jesus is Victor! It means that we shall indeed overcome. With this comes the need to recognise that even  with our effort, the entire credit belongs to God (Psalm 115).

It is on our behalf that God acts. Through His act we are pointed beyond our broken stories, beyond ourselves, towards His Word to where the roar of new life breaches the walls of apparent darkness.  It is by His act that we are released to respond boldly to the present, bravely forgive, learn from the past and teach towards tomorrow.

‘The past not only shapes and illuminates the present but anticipates the future.’
– Alistair McGrath [ii]


Source:

[i]  Quote: ‘God still owns tomorrow’ is from Elisabeth Elliot, Let Me Be A Woman 1999, p.31

[ii] ‘Christianity’s Dangerous Idea: The Protestant Revolution’ HarperCollins, 2007, p.10