A Tiny Spark

By Marcy Barthelette

Be slow to speak … it takes only a few inflammatory words to destroy a relationship forever. Tony Dungy & Nathan Whitaker, The One Year Uncommon Life Daily Challenge

My husband sat on the floor in the midst of an animated group of youngsters in a church we attended a number of years ago. He was tasked with delivering the kids’ message which usually became an object lesson. On the particular Sunday in question, he came armed with a tube of toothpaste and a paper plate. When everyone settled (sort of), he proceeded to squeeze a large amount of the toothpaste onto the paper plate. And then he asked for a volunteer to put it back in the tube. There’s at least one kid who always raises a hand when a volunteer is being recruited and that day was no exception. The hand that Ken knew would jump into the air didn’t fail him and a very determined young man set about trying to shove that toothpaste back into the tube. A few minutes and a considerable mess later, said volunteer conceded that it couldn’t be done.

And the object of this lesson. Words, once uttered, can never be taken back.

We all can recall sitting in a circle as kids and engaging in the game of Whisper or Telephone as some knew it. One person whispers a sentence into the ear of the next person and so it goes around the circle until it reaches the last person who then must repeat what he or she heard. And, if we think about it, we can also remember that the message received by the last person seldom resembled what the first person had whispered.

I would suggest that the same can be said of gossip. We usually don’t mean to pass along misinformation, but we don’t always remember exactly what we heard from a friend an hour ago, a day ago, or last week and so the information changes just a little bit. But when that misinformation passes through several people and each one adds their own interpretation, the result can be devastating for the person or situation being discussed.

We’ve all heard of the Great Chicago Fire. It happened in October of 1871 and burned for three days killing an estimated 300 people and leaving 100,000 others homeless. The fire burned more than three square miles of the city, destroyed some 17,000 structures, and carried a damage estimate of two hundred million dollars. During that same period, another fire ravaged an area encircling Peshtigo, Wisconsin. This blaze consumed 1.5 million acres and left only one building standing in the town of Peshtigo. Because of the rural nature of the area, the number of lives lost is uncertain, but it was considerable. And more recently, we hear too many reports of massive forest fires in our western states. Sometimes lightning is the culprit but too often a careless smoker tosses a still-lit cigarette from a car or a camper walks away from hot coals that only require a breeze to become flames once more.

Gossip shares a lot of similarities with fire. It often begins with one very small, an innocuous spark that grows exponentially when offered fuel and an adequate breeze. We humans are very adept at adding unkind fuel and providing plenty of wind to generate a very large blaze.

You must give an account on judgment day for every idle word you speak. The words you say will either acquit you or condemn you. Matthew 12: 36-37

Consider cautiously whether or not you really want to share your thoughts with others, especially if they could be hurtful to someone and, if you have been entrusted with confidential information, tuck it close to your heart and guard it as if it were your own secret. Never forget that just one spark landing in dry tinder can destroy everything in its wake. Do you want to be that spark?

Make sure “just between you and me” stays that way. Deflect gossip about a person with uplifting and edifying words about them, and never say anything you wouldn’t want that person to hear. The One Year Uncommon Life Daily Challenge by Tony Dungy, Nathan Whitaker

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