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Guard Your Heart

I recently read a book by Malcolm Gladwell. Gladwell loves exploring unexpected aspects of human nature and human behavior. In this particular book, he describes an interesting psychological experiment that caught my attention.

In the experiment students were given a list of little word puzzles. For example, they were asked to find the word that does not fit in this jumbled up sentence:   water   politely   am   asked   Mary   for

Looking at the sentence, the word am seems to be the one that does not fit. Each student was given a sheet of a few dozen such puzzles. The student (the subject) was instructed to work the puzzles on the sheet, then go to the graduate student sitting at a desk at the end of the hall to get the next assignment.

The twist, as all good psychology experiments must have, was that invariably when the subject went to get the next assignment, the graduate student was already engrossed in conversation with another student. The real experiment was this: How long would the subject wait before interrupting this conversation to get the next assignment?

Surprisingly, the answer to that question depended heavily on what words were on the sheet the student had just completed! On some sheets, the word puzzles were sprinkled with words like “aggressively,” “rude,” “bold,” “infringe,” “intrude,” and “bother.” Students who worked these sheets interrupted the conversation after just a few minutes. Other sheets contained words like “respect,” “considerate,” “appreciate,” “patiently,” “yield,” “polite,” and “courteous.” The vast majority (82%) of students who worked the second test did not interrupt at all (there was a ten minute time-limit imposed on the experiment).

What is the point? The results of this experiment tell us that what you see on a sheet of paper -- the words you read in passing, can affect your attitude and behavior. The word puzzles were written so that it was not obvious what was going on.  Many of the puzzles on the page did not have any of the key words in them. The students had no idea they were being “primed” to be rude or polite. Yet, their subsequent behavior shows that the subtle message of those words had an impact.

I am not a huge fan of psychological experiments, but the important point is that the results of this experiment agree with scripture. We are warned to be diligent guardians of our hearts.

“Guard your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the issues of life.”   -  Proverbs 4:23

“How can a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed according to Your word.”  -  Psalm 119:9

“Your word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against you.”  -  Psalm 119:11

“Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.”  -  Philippians 4:8

“And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”  -  Romans 12:2

There is an ongoing battle over the hearts of men. We need to be very aware of the influences surrounding us, both overt and subtle. When challenged about the choice to watch a violent or R-rated movie, I have heard Christians reply, “It’s ok. It doesn’t bother me.” When asked about their worldly choices in music, I have heard Christians reply, “I can handle it.” When asked about spending so much time with their worldly friends, I have heard the reply, “I’ll influence them, not vice versa.” Can we be so sure?

When a dozen well-chosen words on a page, quickly read, can make the difference between politeness and rudeness, what will filling our ears, eyes, and thoughts with  worldly words, images, and opinions do? What will filling our hearts and minds with what is true, noble, just, pure, lovely, and virtuous do?

Guard your heart with all diligence, for out of it flow the issues of life.

- Pat Gaughan