Know when to be quiet

Thanks Yolisa for this email which I received today:

Know When to Be Quiet!

‘Fools vent…the wise quietly hold it back.’ Proverbs 29:11

Carol Kuykendall writes: ‘My very pregnant daughter got her hair cut…from long to stylishly short. She was trying to get used to her new look when we ran into one of her friends. “Oh no!” her friend wailed…”I don’t like it!” Then as if to rationalise her words, she quickly added, “You know me. I’m a Truth-Teller!” As we walked away my daughter told me she could’ve done without the truth that day!…It made me more aware of that critical moment in conversation when I’m faced with a choice: Do I say what I’m thinking? Or do I zip it? I keep hearing that “telling it like it is” and “being real” is good for relationships. Reality TV, confessions on Oprah and Twittering the Truth add to our reverence for authenticity. But here’s what I know about myself: if I say everything I think, I can slay people in my path. And just because I think something – doesn’t make it true…A good question to ask is: Is it helpful – or hurtful – to the person or our relationship? What about the timing and tone? [For example] a comment about a spouse’s appearance is hurtful when they can’t do anything about it, and will only make him or her self-conscious the rest of the evening.’ The Bible says, ‘Fools vent…the wise quietly hold it back.’ Knowing when not to speak is often more important than knowing what to say. That’s what Paul had in mind: ‘Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up…that it may benefit those who listen.’ (Eph 4:29)

I have mulled over this all morning. I must admit that I am generally a straight shooter, believing that “straight talk breaks no friendship” but this idea that what I WANT to say doesn’t necessarily make it true or right or good for the hearer, really stopped me in my tracks. There’s honesty, and then there’s being tactless and unintentionally hurtful while you think are you doing the next person a favour. There’s also talking nonsense about things that don’t even concern you, when really you should just shut it and keep your 5c in your pocket. I’m always amazed at how different the hearer perceives things versus the intent with which the words were spoken. And herein lies the problem. I am one of those people who over analyse EVERYTHING, and often get hung up on something that was said flippantly and I will drive myself crazy trying to decipher what was actually behind those words. In the mean time the speaker has moved on to having breakfast in bed without a care in the world, while I have been up all night trying to make sense of what was said. Ok, that’s dramatic, but you get the point, right? Often we say things without thinking of the effect they will have on the hearer.

It’s true that you just shouldn’t say anything at all if you don’t have anything nice to say. And I don’t mean that everything that comes out of your mouth needs to be pure and holy and uplifting and sing-songy (although this is what we should actually aim for). We are human and fallible after all – not an excuse, just the truth. I’m saying I’d just like to learn to think a bit more before I speak. Do we really need to tell so-and-so that blue is not their colour? Who actually cares? Does it make thaaat much of a difference if they wear blue or not? The only purpose and the only possible outcome of that statement is to make the person feel really bad about what they have chosen to wear, or the colour of the car they have just bought or the colour they have just painted their new bedroom walls. That doesn’t make them feel good at all so why even say it?

I can also be very abrupt and forthcoming with my opinion… is that necessary? To always want to be heard, to be the first to get your point across – it can be condescending for the hearer and you can come across as being arrogant. It’s like I think the louder I speak, the more I will be heard. YES they can hear you alright, but who do people actually prefer to LISTEN to? Not the loud noisy bulldozer, that’s for sure. I’ve witnessed it in meetings at work. When the loud bulldozer starts to speak, everyone else rolls their eyes heavenward and deep sighs can be heard around the boardroom. It’s annoying! One can be confident, outgoing, a leader and equally part of a team if they learn to curb their enthusiasm and speak calmly and in a tone that is neither condescending nor arrogant.

I’m not even talking about gossip, speaking ill of others or purposefully saying hurtful things in the heat of an argument, because that’s a whole different set of prayers we need to be praying right there! I’m talking about, in general, passing comments or saying something without considering how it will make the other person feel. And we don’t want to have to pussyfoot around people either, but if you don’t like something do you have to let everyone know? So what if YOU could have gotten better boots at half the price when looking at your friend’s new shoes? So what if YOU think bright red lipstick should only be worn by harlots when commenting on your colleague’s lip colour. So what if YOU can tell fake LV from the real deal when your friend shows off her new bag that her hubby bought her. All you’ve done to that person is make them feel really small and stupid – no matter how confident you are, comments like THAT can knock the sails right out of a person’s little boat. All because of your opinion which you, of course, are entitled to but isn’t necessarily the truth. It’s YOUR truth, not everyone else’s.

So yes, this was my lesson for today. Carol Kuykendall’s words really hit home for me. The Bible says we will give account for every careless word we speak, by our words we will be justified and by our words we will be condemned (Matt 12: 36-37). So best we watch what comes out of our mouths! Speak well or speak not.


2 thoughts on “Know when to be quiet”

  1. I used to be a shoot-from-the-hip kind of girl. I don’t know what happened but one day I realised that it wasn’t cool to be like that.
    I also realised that I didn’t particularly enjoy straight-from-the-hip when it was directed at me. I only need straight-from-the-hip from people that I fully trust, from people that I am emotionally intimate with, from people who have filter-less relationships with me. So I stopped just saying the first thing that came to mind. I started to think before I spoke. It was hard. I had to learn to become quiet. I had to learn to read situations better. I had to learn to trust my instincts more because sometimes people need you to listen and not respond. Sometimes people only want your opinion if they ask for it. It’s not easy but it can be done. I prayed a lot for God to help me in that area of my life. I am by no means perfect and I do still get this wrong sometimes but I can truly say that I am no longer a shoot-from-the-hip kind of girl. And that is so. very. liberating. I’m telling you this NOT to brag about how far I’ve come with this, but merely to let you know that it’s hard but it CAN BE DONE.

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