Poor Talk (Part 2)…

poorOK- so what is wrong with poor talk and why do I believe that it qualifies as a sin of the tongue? (Read last week’s blog to get caught up.)

First, grousing about how others are prospering while we feel we are not doing as well, keeps us from remembering the blessings of God for what we do have and being thankful (1 Thess. 5:18). We can draw some consolation from the fact that the adaptation-level principle works in both directions: if personal or societal economic pressures force us to adopt a simpler life style, we will eventually adapt and recover life’s balance of happiness and satisfaction. Perhaps that is why many people claim to be so much happier when they simplify their lives.

Poor talk also keeps us from being content with what we do have, therefore, showing a distrust in God’s provision. “We can exercise choice in the selection of our comparison groups. We can resist the tendency to measure ourselves against those higher on the ladder of success, and instead choose to compare ourselves with those less fortunate. Earlier generations were taught to perform such comparisons by way of ‘counting one’s blessings.’ Today we can gain the same benefit by means of selective exposure to comparison groups. Discovering how relatively small our problems are can make us more sensitive to real poverty. It can give us an appreciation of the extent to which some people’s unmet needs — clean water, adequate nutrition, medical care — are things we take for granted. Realizing this will not only sensitize us to the suffering of the truly impoverished; it will also help us develop an attitude of gratitude for what we have.” (“Poor Talk,” Thomas Ludwig and David Myers, Saturday Review)

Finally, poor talk blinds us to the needs of the actual poor because our attention is fixed upon ourselves and our relationship to others who are doing better than we are. “We [need to] make a conscious effort to reduce poor talk… Over and over people complain that they are underpaid, defeated by inflation and taxes, and no longer capable of affording their family’s needs. Some think that such mutual commiseration is harmless, but research has indicated that what people say influences how they think and feel. The very act of complaining about unwelcome economic changes may therefore increase our discontent. Poor talk also focuses our attention on ourselves in a way that blinds us to the needs of others.”

At the end of his Chronicles of Narnia, C. S. Lewis depicts heaven as the ultimate liberation from the relativity of experience. Here creatures cannot feel deprived, depressed or anxious. There is no adaptation-level trauma, for happiness is continually expanding. Here is “the Great Story, which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.” This resurrection hope does not eliminate the ups and downs of day-to-day life, but it does offer a liberating cosmic perspective from which to view them.

Here on earth we will never completely escape the “I need more treadmill.” But by becoming aware of the relativity of our appetites, by reducing our poor talk, by consciously selecting our comparison groups, and by viewing life from the perspective of resurrection faith, we can share the humble and grateful response of the Psalmist: “The Lord is my Shepherd; I have everything I need.”

We thank Thee, then, O Father,
For all things bright and good,
The seed-time and the harvest,
Our life, our health, our food;
No gifts have we to offer,
For all Thy love imparts,
But that which Thou desirest,
Our humble, thankful hearts.
(Matthias Claudius, 1784)

Question: When is a poor talker no longer a poor talker? When he stops poor talking?
Answer: No; when he is grateful and content with what he has and generous towards others.

Poor Talk…

poorPoor Talk; a very important issue for us to consider because of the present economic condition of our country and of the world. Many of you are unemployed or working ‘below your skill level,” and many of you have just graduated and are facing a job market that is less than friendly. Others are retired or facing retirement with shrinking resources and facing the prospect of getting a part-time job or of working longer before you can think of retirement. It is a perfect storm for Poor Talk; blaming those Greeks, Spaniards, and Italians for not getting their economic act together and bringing down the value of my Facebook stock; angry at those in the futures market who artificially drive up oil prices to fill their pockets while I struggle to fill my gas tank every week; disgust with the 1% who are so filthy rich while we in the Middle Class are sacrificing our slice of the American Dream.

Some very significant research was done by Psychologists Thomas Ludwig and David Myers during the economic crisis of the late 1970’s when Jimmy Carter was president. Some of you may remember the Iran Hostage issue and the oil crisis with long gas lines and the distribution of gas based upon odd or even license plate numbers. The research was written up in a magazine called the Saturday Review and the article was called Poor Talk. It presented several principles that helped to explain the emotions that accompany economic fluctuations as well as why we are rarely content with what we have, even in good times.

The first principle is the adaptation-level phenomenon. “The basic point is that success and failure, satisfaction and dissatisfaction are relative to our prior experience. We use our past to calibrate our present experience and to form expectations for the future.”

I remember experiencing this when I was a paper boy. This was back when newspapers were .25 and I was earning a grand total of $4 or $5 a week. To me that was huge- I felt wealthy. Then Christmas came, the Nirvana of very paper boy or girl, and I started getting tips. I remember that my income shot up to about $15 for a few weeks and I re-calibrated my expectations; it became the new normal. Then after Christmas, when I went back to making 4-5 stinking bucks a week, I wanted to quit.

The second insight from this psychological research is the relative-deprivation principle. “Whereas the adaptation-level phenomenon is rooted in changes in our own experience across time, the relative—deprivation principle is based primarily on comparison with other people.” And we usually compare ourselves with those who are better off than we are to the extent that we can actually feel poor if we do not have what they have. Plato was right when he said, “Poverty consists not in the decrease of one’s possessions, but in the increase of one’s greed.” Ouch!

A third principle is one of the self-orientation mentality; “the fact that it is a very real human tendency to view oneself as better and more deserving than others.” One of the dangers that those in Christian ministry fall into is not only comparing what we make with those in the secular world, but also feeling that we deserve more than the average person because of the sacrifices we make for the Lord. We feel deprived not on the basis of what we have but on the basis of comparison with what others have. And do you know what? Once again, we usually compare ourselves with those who are doing better than we are and not the other way around. You can see how this can blind us to the very real need of the real poor.

Next week…what we can do to overcome Poor Talk?