I’m fairly confident that nobody, upon reaching the time of their retirement, strokes their chin and thinks, “I wish I’d gone to more meetings!” Yesterday, I thought of this as I sat in a room packed with several hundred of my colleagues at a faculty meeting.
Without boring you completely on the details, let’s just say that our academic commander has been tasked with creating a better system for sharing decision making with the faculty. Various people have various ideas for how that might be achieved. Imagine that: academics with multiple opinions. The problem yesterday was that not everybody was particularly nice about how to share their ideas.
The commander took some criticism. His superiors, the president and board of trustees, received a good dose of blame. The leadership, current and past, for committee A was criticized as was the leadership of committee B. It was what my friend Nathan terms, a “big day in preschool.” I’m not sure what that means precisely, but it’s what I think of when I read today’s text.
Don’t pay attention to everything people say, or you may hear your servant cursing you, for in your heart you know that many times you yourself have cursed others.Ecclesiastes 7:21-22
The Blame Barrage
I’m also reminded of God’s opening salvo against Job: “Who is this who obscures my counsel with ignorant words?” (Job 38:2). People have about ten pieces of criticism for every complaint-worthy act. When I start classes on Monday, I will undoubtedly meet students who will blame me along with their family, their friends, President Trump, their high school teachers, society as a whole, and a host of other factors for whatever failures they produce.
So what’s a person to do when the blame missiles are flying thick and heavy across the battlefield of life? I’m kind of surprised by the advice that is given in this text. The teacher does not advise us to listen carefully to all of the criticism, weighing it to determine its merits before thoughtfully acting on what is learned. No, he just says “don’t pay attention.”
My daughter works on a customer service phone line for a credit card company. Every day she hears people criticizing and blaming, her favorite being, “I hope you’re proud of yourself. You’re ruining Christmas!” So how does Olivia succeed and keep from being depressed by this steady stream of blame and criticism? She doesn’t pay attention to it. She does her best to wade through the nastiness in order to discover what she can or cannot do to make the customer happy.
Getting in Tune
We can keep from listening to those who obscure our counsel with ignorant words when we realize that we do the same thing. When we realize the ignorance of those words we can refuse to either let them get us down or allow them to provoke us to equally ignorant responses. And just maybe, in that realization, we can see our own ignorant words for what they are and make them fewer.