Keep Your Shirt On!

A battle may be raging tonight.

No, it’s not a gun fight in Afghanistan, although that may be happening as I write this.  It’s not the earth-shattering resumption of the Cold War in parts of the old Soviet Union.  Those battles are unlikely to require my participation; the combatants there hardly need my hat to be thrown into the ring.  They will do what they will without the benefit of my contribution.

The battle of which I speak would seem small, with no guns and no physical violence, yet there is the opportunity for a lifetime of repercussions–little land mines planted here and there now which will take their toll for many years to come.  At its ending, friends may still speak, but the booby-traps will spring when least expected, starting with a memory of harsh words, and growing into the sudden suspicion that perhaps criticisms meant for a group in general were aimed at one person in particular.

I read the words last night and wondered where they would lead.

A friend is unhappy with the outcome of a local municipal decision and is exercising his right to speak out.  I disagree with his conclusion, but I will not deny him the right to speak his mind.  For a few moments last night I even considered offering my opinion on the matter.

That was before.

Before I remembered the horror of battle.  Before I saw those faces in my mind again, astonishment and pain written on them as they were decimated by the fury of my attack.  Before the thoughts of relationships lost in the dim past hit me like an armored personnel carrier.

Just as my decision to forgo the flight to Russia to offer my two cents’ worth, I have decided to refuse to enter this fray as well.

I am an opinionated and argumentative person.  I come by those attributes honestly.  First, I am a member of the human race, a true son of Adam–a man who had the gall to argue with his Creator, blaming Him indirectly for the original sin (“The woman You gave me…”).  I’ve told you before that the red-headed lady who raised me suggested that I would argue with a fence-post.  Truth be told, I learned a lot of it from her, but we’ll move on from there quickly, shall we?

When I argue, I am not interested in solutions, only in obliterating my opponent.  When I am challenged, I feel the need, like an old fashioned prize fighter, to pull my shirt over my head and head for the ring to settle this right here and right now.

I have shouted; I have yelled; I have slammed my fists on the table.  I have lost friends.  I have lost the respect of people who thought once that I was worthy of it.  All because I was ready to fight for what I believed.

No.  I will keep my hat on my head.  Better than that, I’ll keep my shirt on too. 

Fully clothed, I’ll stand before you.  I don’t want to argue about cars or sports.  I will keep mum about politics and Hollywood.  The list stretches on, but I’ll not be sucked in.

The shirt and the hat stay on.

For all of the arguments in which I’ve ever participated, I can’t remember the rationale for starting any one of them.  Those oh-so-important subjects are lost in the dim mists of the past, many of them made moot by the years.  They loomed bigger than life in my mind when the discussion began.  Today, on the scale of importance, they rate only slightly higher than zero.

Can I tell you what towers over them, right up near the top of that same scale?

Relationships with people.

Sometimes, it’s people who disagree with me and who want to argue all the issues.  It’s also people who need to be loved and couldn’t care less where I stand on those issues.  I don’t want to end a single one of these relationships because of the fickle winds of opinions and issues that have been blowing since the dawn of time and will be blustering long after I depart from this world.

Not a single one.

I’m wondering these days if my change in attitude is only because I’m getting old and tired.  I admit it.  I’m old and tired.  But, it’s more than that.

The years have taught me that there are more important things than these temporal trappings we see all around us.  We can invest our lives in fighting for the things.  Or–we can invest our lives in people.  The things are here today and gone tomorrow, swallowed up by time and progress.

People?  Not so much.

I’ve been doing a little genealogical searching for my ancestors recently.  With every discovery I make about where I come from, one thing has become clear.

The things we do today have a profound impact on future generations.  Choices we make lightly now will alter, forever, the shape of our family tree.  The same is true of the conversations and interactions we have with people in this world, whether family, friends, or perfect strangers.

Every argument, every shouting match, every curse word uttered will alter the course of the future and have far reaching effects which we cannot foresee.  There are no exceptions.

Mrs. Olsen had the right idea when she taught us that little song, way back in Sunday School, didn’t she? 

“Oh be careful little mouth what you say.”

The shirt stays on.

“People’s minds are changed through observation and not through argument.”
(Will Rogers ~ American cowboy/humorist ~ 1879-1935)

“So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things.  How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire!”
(James 3:5 ~ ESV)

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2014. All Rights Reserved.

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