Negative and Positive Words in Countercultural Balance

It is common to say that “Love is the most powerful force in the Universe.” It is part of romantic philosophy (if there is such a thing). It is often thought of as Christian. And perhaps it is. God is greater than the Universe. Since God can be characterized by love, then love in some sense can be seen in those lights.

I don’t think I have the expertise to give a definitive answer to the above statement. But I feel pretty confident that the following statement is true:  “Hateful Words are more powerful than Loving Words.”

Westboro Baptist Church at the United Nations ...
Westboro Baptist Church at the United Nations headquarters in New York City, on the day of Pope Benedict’s address to the UN General Assembly. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


If you are not sure of this… feel free to try this experiment. If you have a loved one (spouse, son, daughter, parent, fiance’, best friend), start tomorrow morning with the statement, “____, I wanted to tell you that I really hate you.” The next day, start the day with “_____, I wanted to tell you that I really love you.” To make it a fair experiment, make sure that your attitude/emotions match the words you give. No irony, no cancellation or explanation of statements later. See the effects of the statements. Effectivity is essentially the power of the statements.

You might feel that this test is rigged since you are already dealing with a loved one. If you want a more reliable test, try the same on two other people, one a person that you hate (or at least strongly dislike) and one for whom you have ambivalence.

Since, you have not done the test yet, I don’t know what results you will get (perhaps you won’t even do the test… and that is okay… maybe for the best). However, in group dynamics it is found that positive supportive words are needed more than negative critical words. A healthy, functioning group should have around 5 times as many positive statements as negative statements. As one approaches 3 to 1 ratio things are becoming risky.  Well before one gets to 1 positive to 1 negative, things start to fall apart. Any group, partnership, or marraige that has equal amount of positive and negative statements is in deep trouble. This suggests two important thoughts.

1.  Negative statements have a stronger effect on a person than do positive statements. This suggests that they should be used more carefully and rarely.

2.  Some negative statements are needed. Negative statements, being more powerful, are a greater impetus for change. Positive statements are more likely to maintain some status quo (but not always, of course).

The church (any church) must provide some negative commentary on the society around it or it has no countercultural power… it provides no visible contrast. A church that gives no negative commentary will be seen as accommodating, and maybe even supporting, cultural problems. Some churches have chosen not to talk about sin or social justice… because it sounds negative. But some negative is needed… can hardly be salt and light in a world without some genuine critique of the world systems. However, the positive statements must greatly outweigh the negative. For the church to be seen as a loving place, it must be demonstrate loving words far more often than negative words. If it fails to do that (consider the example of “Westboro Baptist Church” for a church  that appears to be only hateful because so much of what it talks about is hateful in tone and content) the church provides nothing that decorates the Gospel of Christ (recalling Titus 2:10).

Churches and Missions must balance their role of loving positive statements with loving negative statements. But the balance must be strongly towards the positive because of the power of negative words. With a healthy balance (maybe 5 positive supportive acts or statements for ever 1 negative) the church can be seen as a loving, supportive, Christlike place, while still challenging that which is wrong around them.


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