Friday, 10 February 2012

Careless Whisper

There is a theory expressed in some places that claims that the beat of a butterfly's wings in one part of the world can create a hurricane in another. I am no physicist or chaos-theorist, so I opt to acquiesce on this idea, all the while being quite sure in my unqualified heart that it is bunkum!

As I spend more time in this ministry of mine, I encounter more and more people. Every single human creature has a story, and I am willing to bet that they have one thing in common (or else know personally of such a thing close at hand).

I believe that, in the main, the fractures and disputes, wars and conflicts, turmoil and suffering, needless slaughter, lifelong antipathies, deeply set quarrels, career ending, family smashing, sibling dividing, friend destroying phenomena are not the products of great single events. It would be easy to say that all marriages end because of an affair, because of violence, or because of someone else - but I am not sure that is the case. It would be easy to say that siblings fall out for decades because of a Last Will and Testament, of greed or jealousy - but I am not sure that is the case. It would be easy to blame all wars on Archduke Ferdinand-type events, the lit touchpaper, the invasion - but I am not sure that is the case.

I think the cause is altogether more mundane. I think the cause is banal in and of itself. 

Every conflict (with the very rare exception) I have heard about in all the ways I sit and listen to people talk have started not in the seat of a significant event, but in the wake of what can only be termed a 'careless whisper', an ill-thought phrase uttered thoughtlessly, a rebuke that was a fraction too heavy. Equally, I have heard of conflicts that are seated in the glint on an eye, a passing expression, the interpreted inference that wasn't intended. That beat of a butterfly wing, in the moment, seems to cause little damage - but the fracture starts and simply widens with time until a hair-line crack becomes a gap becomes a fissure becomes an aching chasm. 

This is both an alarming conclusion and a reassuring one. Everyone of us has the wings of a butterfly and the power to cause a hurricane. Mostly we would never intend to, but the road to Hell and all that ... Equally, we have the power to prevent wars and disputes that destroy lives, simply by taking a moment more care in an argument, with throwaway comments. We can ignite a smoldering fire in someone with consequences that can never be predicted, or we can quell one (or indeed avoid one). 

As I sit and write this, it occurs to me with some measure of concern the increasing power to build or destroy in the context of social-media. If only people read our words as we intended them to be read!


  1. No one can know what goes on in someone else's marriage....
    Also, isn't that one of the key issues with social media - you can never tell precisely whether what you are reading is someone's intended interpretation. At least with 1:1, face to face - you have all the other clues to help you decide whether what you are interpreting is indeed the correct original meaning...

  2. "If only people read our words as we intended them to be read", seems to me to be at the heart of the matter.
    Whether what we write or say is clear concise or cloudy and ambiguous, there is an innate ability in the human psyche to put our own 'spin' on what we hear or read.
    Most of us are over-sensitive to some words and will react as our inner interpreter dictates.
    You might as well say, if only people were all the same, but we are not, and that is the problem.

  3. This whole idea about the polyvalence of words fascinates me. It is the whole Tomayto Tomato thing I often wonder why humans are so basically incomaptible. Of course we are not, but behind every word is an entire life lived, each giving a distinctive tone to the letters uttered.

  4. Sometimes we all talk or write to much. But we all filter and interpret based on our own complex lives and thought processes. One persons love is another's hate!

    Surely, that's why we're human and mortal, not divine.

  5. So true! Long before a big break occurs, a tiny fracture or fissure is often what compromises a relationship. I have often thought that is why the scriptures caution us against bitterness, or too-reticent a willingness to forgive. Molehills do become mountains, and that's no bunkum ( a new word for me ).



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