At the Beginning of time, the Chief of Spin came to the first woman and asked her a question. “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”
A question to start a person’s mind drifting in a direction slightly off true north. A case of spin by innuendo.
The conversation then became a dense web of half-truths and downright lies, ending in a cosmic act that put spin permanently into human culture.
The first two people showed that they had learned well. The woman told God, “The serpent deceived me and I ate.” A case of spin through selective reporting.
The man said, “The woman you put here with me . . .” Spin to divert blame to others.
Slithering into Conversation
In its cleanest form “spin,” according to Webster’s, means “to evolve, express, or fabricate by processes of mind or imagination.” But by its very nature spin easily becomes dirty. When spin distorts reality to manipulate others into unreflective actions and thoughts, spin has contaminated our communication with evil.
Take, for example, a boy reading a book on the U.S. Civil War as his mom and a friend chat over tea. Suddenly the boy asks, “Who was General Sherman?”
Without blinking, one woman responds, “An arsonist.”
After hearty laughter, the other says, “He burned a strip through the middle of the Southern U.S. as part of a military tactic to end Southern military power.”
The first woman, born and bred a Southerner, describes Sherman’s activities with a spin that exposes her own perspective. But the second woman, by focusing only on the military side of the event, justifies the action. That statement is another kind of spin hiding under the cloak of selective objectivity.
In similar ways we spin intended messages as we argue over deeply held convictions. Follow such spin to a school library committee meeting. Up for discussion is an objection to the inclusion of a certain author in the library’s collection. The committee needs to agree about keeping or removing the author’s books from the shelves. As the discussion winds on, two sides gradually form. One group favors removal because the books don’t clearly adhere to the library’s policy.
The other side calls that censorship.
Then comes a discussion about the need to be “true to the mission statement.”
“Censorship!” shout the opponents.
Hot words like censorship raise the rhetoric of any discussion to fever pitch. Yet the word has been used to describe all sorts of situations, many of them really just the process of making choices.
On the other hand, being “true to the mission statement” can be a spin to cover such sins as the mistreatment of employees and the shirking of broader responsibilities.
Spin is not just verbal. Television commercials fill our eyes and ears with so much spin that sometimes we don’t realize the effect they have on our lives.
A middle-schooler comes home from his school’s media class one day to an evening program shared with his parents. Several car ads later, he notes, “Those ads want you to think that you’ll have the lifestyle in the ad if you just buy the car.”
When the next ad appears, the parents understand. A sleek machine roaring around impossible turns on a racecourse carries a small print disclaimer at the bottom. But the visual spin is unmistakable: buy the car, and you’ll have the same driving experience.
While truth-in-advertising laws enforce some relationship between spin and reality in the commercial world, those laws do not apply to political ads or speech. As a result, political speech is assumed to be—and often is—spin. Take, for example, what’s happened to the rhetoric surrounding the issue of Social Security in the U.S.
At first citizens were told that they should want control over their money through “privatization” of retirement accounts. However, political advisers learned that the word privatization is not popular with the citizenry. Now politicos advocate allowing people to have “ownership” over their retirement funds.
Perhaps the most spectacular example of political spin occurred during an ancient spy mission. As the wandering Israelites approached their promised geographic destination, the Lord prudently had them send spies to assess the military situation as well as the desirability of the land. Twelve men went undercover.
But when the team returned, two reports emerged. Giants lived there in fortified cities, said a majority of the spies. In comparison, they said, the Israelites seemed like grasshoppers. As the 10 masters of group spin became more and more frightened by their own distortions, their words turned into outright lies about the land itself.
However, two on the mission filed a minority report. Convinced that the tribes could take the land, they argued that the country was good, that the Lord would give them the victory, and that the peoples there had no real protection.
The Israelites believed the spin. And they spent 40 more years in the desert before their children were permitted to prove the minority report right.
Spinning Out of Control?
All of us participate in spin because we have a heart condition that urges us to put ourselves in the best possible light. We slyly lower other people’s respectability to enhance our own. We want to win our case at all costs. We want to manipulate people to do things our way.
Organizationally, we create families, churches, and political parties that have a propensity to “group think.” Members’ eyes and ears should be closed to larger realities. Outsiders should see only our better sides. Our own actions or positions must win at all costs.
If we all spin a little or a lot, is there hope for us?
The good news holds out real hope for changed hearts and redeemed communication. Through the power of God’s Holy Spirit living in and among us, God begins a healing process within our homes, churches, schools, and businesses. We can grow together through loving communication as we increase in spiritual fruitfulness. Then we can begin to • understand that God’s creation is always more complex than we want to admit. • discern simplistic and one-sided analyses or solutions. • learn to distinguish what’s behind the words and images and sounds. • put on humility with regard to our own vulnerability to spin through our words and actions. • ask loving questions of ourselves and our churches, schools, and businesses in cases when spin seems to be happening.
At the end of time, Jesus will come down from heaven to walk with his people once again. Then, as in the beginning, he does not want our spin. He wants us as God’s image-bearers, unblemished by our distorted self-images. To achieve this he will wipe out all the webs we have spun to cover the darkest corners of our hearts and cultural achievements.
Then, and only then, there will be no more spin.
Exercise Your Discernment
Dear Banner Reader,
I have written this article with the increasing realization that I am chief among spinners. Whether or not you agree with my assertions, my selective telling has spun impressions that might draw you with invisible threads to places where discussion is no longer possible. For the sake of transparent communication within the household of God, I invite you to discern my spin as it may be present in this article. You might ask a few questions: • Can you discern my perspective on each of the stories told? Has my retelling betrayed my opinion about the people and positions represented? • Did the way in which I’ve used words or word pictures subtly influence you? • How has my choice of words spun a picture of spin? Is that picture adequate? Have I omitted some parts and treated others lightly? • How has my choice of illustrations spun an opinion in your mind about their subjects? Has the way in which I’ve positioned the illustrations within the article led you to unwittingly agree with positions on other issues?
As we communicate together, may the Spirit give us humble hearts and discerning minds to slow the wheels of our own spinning before we lovingly try to stop that of others.