In his book Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, Malcolm Gladwell mentions a marriage counselor who can predict, with better than ninety percent accuracy, if a marriage will succeed or if it will end. He films a couple interacting for about ten minutes or so, then combs through the video, second by second, looking for four things – defensiveness, being critical, stonewalling and contempt. The most important of these predictors, he says, is contempt because it, more than the others, crosses gender lines. It is the most destructive and divisive. It is beyond anger, for it is heiarchical. Anger says, “I can’t stand you!” or “I am so mad at you!” But contempt says, “You a**hole!” It places the other person on a lower level of humanity.
Upon hearing this, my mind went to Jesus’ so called Sermon on the Mount. In it He stated that anyone who says to someone, “You fool!” is in danger of or liable to the fires of Gehenna [Matt. 5:22]. Growing up, I never really understood this at all. It seemed overly harsh in a shallow sort of way for Jesus’ teaching. I’ve heard that some preachers say that this was Jesus’ way of telling us not say “GD.” But Dallas Willard wrote that here, the Master Teacher is actually dealing with contempt, and Gladwell’s section about the marriage counselor brought it all together for me.
This is the brilliance of Jesus. Who knows the human heart better than the One who made it? He knew what goes on inside the human heart for the words “You fool” to escape the mouth. He knew that these word were motivated by contempt and He knew the depths of its destructive and dividing power long before we figured it out. It wasn’t about just calling people names or saying bad words. In our modern society of busyness and traffic, it’s usually, “You a**hole!” But it’s not just saying that, it’s the contempt in our hearts that evokes this tonal manifestation of destruction. In essence, I am placing that person beneath me, and doing so is evil.
How do we deal with preventing contempt from polluting our hearts? Meditate on Jesus’ teachings. Contemplate them and we will find them to be much deeper than what we can take in from a quick reading, or rote memorization. His words are the truth of life, and words with that much substance require much chewing before they can be properly ingested. May we accept and feed the inner transformational healing of Jesus so that contempt is nowhere to be found in the hidden depths of our inner self, but only love for all. Only then will the words “You fool” not even enter our mind.
Philippians 2:3☩Romans 12:3