There are so many times in our lives when we realize after the fact that it would have been in our best interest to have kept our thoughts to ourselves. Words are powerful and can make matters better or cause damage to others or get us into a whole lot of trouble. There is much wisdom in the old adage to “think before you speak”, sage advice for us to follow throughout our entire lives. The Bible tells us that there is a time to reap and a time to sow, a time to laugh and a time to cry. There is also a time to speak and a time to keep our mouths shut. Here are more than twenty such times:
1. When we are angry or upset. Emotions fuel our behavior including our choice of words. Intense emotions, such as anger, cloud rational thinking and oftentimes propels us to say hurtful or rude comments that may cause pain to the other party, damage our relationship with them, or get one or more of us in trouble. Give yourself time to calm down and cool off before speaking. Refer to the SWaT Strategy in my book, The Secret Side of Anger. Proverbs 15:1 “A gentle answer turns away wrath, But a harsh word stirs up anger.”
2. When we speak before knowing all of the facts. How often do we open our mouth before knowing all the details of what we are commenting on? We see a scratch on our car when coming out of the store and assume the person closest to it with the overflowing shopping cart is responsible for the damages. We immediately accuse them of wrongdoing. Doing so shows little regard for their feelings and zero interest in deciphering the truth. One only seeks a target for their ire. Therefore, make certain your brain is in gear before your mouth is in motion.
3. When you comment on an issue before verifying that it is true. Our political system is highly volatile, in part, due to accusations and assumptions being perpetrated by the media and others before fact checking to see if their information is correct. Misinformation, lies, assumptions can all lead to unnecessary drama and hardship. Make certain your source of information is accurate before commenting. “Those who seek the truth ask questions. Those who are uninterested form judgments.”~ Janet Pfeiffer
4. If your choice of words will hurt or offend the other party. It’s important to be truthful to one another even when we are not happy with them. However, one can politely state how they feel and do so while showing sensitivity towards the other. There are multiple ways of saying the same thing: choose the one most respectful. Imagine how you would feel if those same comments were directed at you. Proverbs 16:24 “Pleasant words are a honeycomb, Sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.”
5. If your words do not reflect Divine Love. Imagine how Jesus would have spoken to others. Will your words be reflective of His compassion and kindness? One need not believe in Jesus to follow His example of benevolence towards humanity. 1Corinthians: “Let all that you do (say) be done in love.” Temper your words with kindness, always.
6. When you are tempted to make light of a serious situation. Joking about that which is sinful, illegal, immoral, or painful to another is insensitive and in poor taste. We must always show reverence for that which is a violation of Divine or civil law or common decency. Compassion towards others enables us to refrain from minimizing another’s suffering. Sometimes we do so in an attempt to ease our own discomfort in the situation but to do so is insensitive to others.
7. When you would regret your words later. Once spoken, words cannot be retracted. Even an apology cannot erase the damage hurtful words can do for once released they can live inside the receiver’s mind for a lifetime. Said once; replayed for eternity. Therefore, carefully choose only those words that you would feel comfortable with knowing they will live on forever.
8. When you are tempted to use God’s Name in conjunction with an offensive comment. Society has pretty much deemed it acceptable to combine the Name of the Lord with profanity and along with phrases of disdain. To do so is an offense to the One who is Purity, Light, and Love. Unclean comments are an abomination to the Lord. The Third Commandment states “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.” Choose alternative phrases to express your displeasure.
9. If your words are misleading or convey the wrong impression. For someone to misrepresent themselves as something other than who they are is deceitful and wrong. In some cases, it can be illegal (such as an EMT misrepresenting themselves as a medical doctor). To make wrongful insinuations about another person or situation with the deliberate intent of misleading others is a poor reflection on your character as well as being unjust to the other party. Actions of this nature can be accompanied by serious consequences to yourself as well as others.
10. If the issue is none of your business. MYOB is great advice: mind your own business. How often do we feel compelled to comment on that which is not our concern? By intervening, we often contribute too much information or information that others may not need to know or should not know about, give inappropriate advice or make improper comments, or offend others by becoming involved in a private matter. Think twice before joining a conversation that you have not been invited into.
11. When you are tempted to outright lie. People lie for a variety of reasons: to protect themselves or another person, out of fear of being judged or condemned, to create drama or damage another person’s reputation. Take a moment and reconsider, for those who lie will eventually be revealed and suffer scars upon their character as well as have to face the consequences of their actions. Proverbs 10:21 “The lips of the righteous feed many, But fools die for lack of understanding.”
12. If your words will damage another person’s reputation or cause them any unnecessary hardships. We all have dirt on one another – those little secrets that others think we don’t know about. And we all have things about ourselves we would like to keep private. We have a choice as to whether we share that information with others or allow it to remain confidential. Before revealing anything that could possibly cause anyone any harm, examine your motives. Is this absolutely necessary that I do so or is it in the best interest of all to allow said information to remain concealed?
Words can hurt or words can heal. There are times when it is far more intelligent and compassionate to remain silent. Think carefully before speaking. Next week, we’ll continue with even more occasions when it is better to not say anything at all.