While the world waited in anticipation for the final verdict in the Derek Chauvin trial on Tuesday, sixteen-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant was shot and killed by police in Columbus, Ohio. Hours later, the body cam footage was released and appears to show that the officer delivered the fatal blow moments before Bryant, who was holding a knife, could do the same to another young woman.
Do those circumstances alter the tragedy of Bryant losing her life at such a young age? Absolutely not. But they do give it context, and that context is important for understanding what really happened and how we should respond.
You see, even the few hours between when the news of Bryant’s death was first reported and when the footage was released were enough for many to form and voice very strong opinions about the heartbreaking event. And for many, those opinions were not greatly changed by the video.
NBA star LeBron James, for example, was among the most prominent and controversial voices to weigh in. On Wednesday he tweeted and then quickly deleted a picture of a Columbus police officer with the caption “You’re next. #accountability.” He later explained that he removed the tweet because people used it “to create more hate” and that “ANGER does (not do) any of us any good and that includes myself! Gathering all the facts and educating does though. My anger is still here for what happened that lil girl. My sympathy for her family and may justice prevail!”
As the protests over Bryant’s death in the days since demonstrate, many share LeBron’s anger and frustration. And while we can debate the degree to which those emotions are warranted and well-placed in this instance, I’d like to focus our attention today on a different question, one that pertains to a problem that has been building across our culture for some time now and shows few signs of changing anytime soon.
Know why you’re speaking
While discussing the shooting on-air Wednesday night, CNN’s Chris Cuomo praised Don Lemon’s initial response of choosing to be “cautious about it . . . because there was a lot of emotion, and understandably so. You’ve got a sixteen-year-old kid who’s gone.” The two then went on to describe the challenges police face when called to a scene where, whether or not the officer fired his weapon, “I think that someone’s life probably would have ended.”
In highly charged situations, such as the shooting in Ohio, responding with reason rather than emotion is an essential but difficult task. It becomes even more challenging, however, when making a fast response is more important than making an informed response, which unfortunately is often the case in today’s cultural climate.
As Christians, we cannot afford to fall into that trap, as doing so drastically increases the chances we will speak, tweet, or post something that quickly looks foolish or offensive (often because it is).
Fortunately, there is a fairly simple question we can ask ourselves to help avoid that temptation: Why do I feel the need to share this thought with others?
It may sound simplistic, but so many of the mistakes we make in conversations on a variety of platforms come about because we are either trying to contribute to a conversation we don’t fully understand, earn points with friends and those we admire, or vent our frustrations at a given topic.
Knowing why you feel the need to speak is a big part of making sure you won’t regret what you say. And it’s a principle Jesus modeled well throughout his ministry.
Think before you speak
In John 8:1–11, for example, we find Jesus teaching at the temple when, in an effort to test him, the scribes and Pharisees dragged a woman in front of him and asked, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now, in the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?”
Instead of answering right away, Jesus bent down and started writing on the ground with his finger. When he was finally ready to answer, he stood and said, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” He then knelt back down and continued writing in the dirt.
Over time, what had begun as a tense and emotionally charged situation eventually de-escalated to the point that he was left alone with the woman.
While Jesus could have responded correctly without hesitation—an ability we often lack—by taking a moment to collect his thoughts, he not only ensured that his words were chosen carefully but also waited until at least some of the initial furor had died down. He was then able to bring God’s wisdom and perspective to bear on the situation in a way that otherwise would not have been possible.
A challenge for you today
The national conversation surrounding the death of Ma’Khia Bryant could have been far more productive if there were more voices that prioritized speaking reasonably rather than rapidly.
Unfortunately, it’s rare if we make it more than a few days before the next social calamity provides us the chance to try again.
When it does, will you take a moment to ask yourself why you feel the need to share your thoughts before you do so? How you answer that question often has a direct correlation to how much God is able to use those thoughts to advance his kingdom.
Choose them wisely.