Words set the culture – Psalm 12

Leaders always set the ‘tone’ whether they intend to or not!

Organisational culture or, what I want to describe as, the ‘atmosphere of a country’ is inevitably set by the way in which the leaders of an organisation or country behave and speak. There have been a number of things in the news recently that underline this observation. The ‘Google Walk Out’ is an example of what can happen when organisational culture goes wrong. The response from from Sundar Pichai has received a mixed reception and there is a suggested alternative response written and included in an article on the Forbes website1. But, it is always tempting to have an opinion on someone else’s behaviour and not to take responsibility for one’s own.

It’s not just at the ‘macro level’ that behaviour and speech set the tone, mum’s and dad’s do it in the context of the family, teachers do it in the classroom, people do it in their neighbourhoods. Sometimes we talk about a ‘climate of fear’ at other times we might describe a place as being ‘peaceful’. Each one of us, in some way, affects the well-being of the people we live and work with. It can’t be avoided.

Sometimes, I am asked to moderate value setting or review sessions for organisations. I use a simple definition of a value ‘something I hold dear that affects the way I behave’. I can have a list of good values but if I behave in a different way, I demonstrate that what I have espoused as a value is actually not a ‘value’ for me. I might claim to have ‘honesty’ as a value but if I behave in a deceptive way I undermine my claim.

The CEO of Google said, At Google we set a very high bar, and we clearly didn’t live up to our expectations.” Behaviour made a huge difference to the sense of well being at the company, for the worse, and the result was protest.

Tomorrow, 6th November 2018, will see the mid-term elections in the USA and people will have an opportunity to vote. I am watching with interest from ‘across the other side of the pond’. What will the electorate say by the way they vote? Will they ‘walk out’ and give a verdict on the ‘tone’ adopted during the last two years? One thing is certain, speech and behaviour affect the culture and atmosphere of a country. It can be avoided.

There is big contrast between the current vocalisation of “barbed wire used properly can be a beautiful sight” and the words on the Statue of Liberty “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” It appears that ‘culture’ is being changed!

This is not intended as a political blog it is a topical reflection on Psalm 12. The psalmist focuses on the impact of people who use their words to dominate and set tone and culture. He has strong words in, Ps 12:4, for people who say “By our tongues we will prevail; our own lips will defend us – who will lord over us?”

In contrast to the boastful words of verse 4, the following verse expresses the writer’s understanding of God’s feelings. Verse 5 says “because the poor are plundered and the needy groan, I will now arise says the Lord.

Psalm 12

For the director of music. According to sheminith. A psalm of David.

Help, Lord, for no one is faithful any more;
    those who are loyal have vanished from the human race.
Everyone lies to their neighbour;
    they flatter with their lips
    but harbour deception in their hearts.

May the Lord silence all flattering lips
    and every boastful tongue –
those who say,
    ‘By our tongues we will prevail;
    our own lips will defend us – who is lord over us?’

‘Because the poor are plundered and the needy groan,
    I will now arise,’ says the Lord.
    ‘I will protect them from those who malign them.’
And the words of the Lord are flawless,
    like silver purified in a crucible,
    like gold refined seven times.

You, Lord, will keep the needy safe
    and will protect us for ever from the wicked,
who freely strut about
    when what is vile is honoured by the human race.

New International version-UK


Lord, help me to understand how my actions and speech affect those I live and work with.

Please help me to live and speak in ways that give you room to work in peoples lives. Help me not to give ‘the enemy’ room, particularly in the lives of my family, friends and neighbours.

Lord, I want to be someone who understands what you want to do in the world around me as I pray “your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven”.

Please help me to know how to respond when I encounter people honour what you see as ‘vile’ and also how to protect the poor and show them your love.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *