One Empty Subject Confronting Another
One of the things that is absolutely critical in any type of discussion is the skill to stop and listen. Being slow to speech and anger requires listening and reflecting on what people have to say when they're speaking. Far too often, we hear words only to begin to internalize our response or reaction.
Social media has brought this natural human habit to the stage. Now we see the incredulity of one another's behavior but never our own. We see the faults in someone's logic but never our own. The words of other people inherently becoming something other than the words we (think ourselves to) speak. A couple particular interactions have reminded me of our habits, but it was a providentially placed quote from Karl Barth that brought everything home.
“Most of our words, spoken or heard, are an inhuman and barbaric affair, because we will not speak or listen to one another. We speak them without wanting to seek or help. And we listen to them without letting ourselves be found or helped. This is the case not only in private conversation, but in sermons, lectures and discussions, in books and articles. This is how we both hear and read. What we speak and write and hear and read is propaganda….It is not the words that are really empty. It is men themselves when they speak and hear empty words. It is the I which is emptied in relation to the Thou, one empty subject confronting another.” Karl Barth (CD III.2, pg. 260)
Barth denounces the "words, spoken or heard" in a particularly brutal fashion. He accuses that we both speak and listen without seeking to further ourselves or the other. There is no real purpose to our engagements and so the words we speak and hear become "empty words." Not for any fault of the words, but due to the emptiness of the man.
Men who use words to neither help nor find help speak merely "propaganda." In the mouths of these men, words are a facade to real dialogue and speech. The man becoming "one empty subject confronting another."
The Apostle Paul in his Epistle to the Ephesians wrote:
Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear. (Ephesians 4:29, NASB)
Particularly challenging for us today is the consistent application of edifying speech in the sphere of social media. But I think we can use Barth's words as a test. Are we speaking to help or seek help? And are we listening to help or be helped?