Words must be chosen carefully, along with the tone we use and our very presentation. Our words have the power to hurt and wound or heal others. Scripture is replete with admonitions to be extremely careful with our speech.
Solomon advises: “Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body.” (Proverbs 16:24)
That said, is it every appropriate to “say it like it is?” Is there a time when we can safely and respectfully speak bold truth? Is there a time when we should stand firm, speak surely and even sternly? I think so.
Scripture advises that we “speak the truth in love.” (Ephesians 4:15) This certainly suggests speaking truth is advisable and that our words should be motivated by love is clear.
We work tirelessly at The Marriage Recovery Center to be gentle with speech and to speak out of a loving heart. We have diagrams and handouts in abundance explaining the best ways to say something to enhance the possibility that our mate can hear and effectively receive the message of their mate.
As important as it is to be gentle with our speech, we must also be careful that we haven’t watered down our truth. Jesus certainly spoke hard truths at times. He admonished the Pharisees on numerous occasions. He said things in a way that were at times hard to hear.
I spoke with a woman this afternoon who expressed concerns about the message she wanted to convey to her husband: “I am tired of tiptoeing around my husband when he says things that hurt me. He pushes everything back on me and won’t receive any criticism whatsoever. I’m afraid to speak truthfully to him. I want to tell him that he has hurt me and need to learn how to effectively share truth to him.”
“There is a time to speak the truth with gentleness,” I said, “and other times when it is appropriate to be firm. He may not receive it, but that is not your responsibility. You have a responsibility to speak truth respectfully.”
“Can I simply say, ‘Your words hurt me?’” she asked.
“Yes,” I said. “I think there is a time to respectfully say, ‘Your words are hurtful to me,’ and let the words stand alone. We don’t do others any favors when we mince our words so that they lose their impact.”
The woman paused as she reflected on what I said.
“I’ve always been taught to never say things like that,” she said. “I would like to let him know that they way he talks to me is hurtful. Then it will be up to him to let my words impact him.”
After we hung up I reflected on this woman’s situation. I reflected on how often I’ve erred in the direction of saying too little, allowing someone’s hurtful words to stand without comment. I did myself and them a disservice.
Deciding when and how to speak truth is no easy matter. Here are some additional considerations on the subject:
First, speaking truth is a responsibility. We do no one any favors when we allow them to speak disrespectfully to us. To remain silent while they verbally abuse us is wrong. We have a responsibility to take good care of ourselves and to let others know when they have crossed a line of respect and dignity.
Second, speaking truth is often frightening. Standing firm and sharing that another has harmed us can be frightening. Telling another that we find their words harmful and disrespectful takes courage. Yet, to do less is to enable destructive behavior to continue.
Third, speaking truth can lead to more conflict. Speaking forth about the damage of another’s words may for the moment create even more tension. Many do not want to be held accountable for their actions. Again, their response to our firm, respectful declaration is their responsibility.
Fourth, speaking truth can bring change. In fact, change rarely happens without truth being spoken. Since we cannot change what we do not own, if we don’t own the necessity for change, change won’t happen. Speaking truth to someone gives them the choice to accept the critical feedback, incorporate it into their lives and make necessary changes.
Finally, speaking truth can lead to greater courage in the future. Having successfully confronted someone generally leads to greater courage for speaking truth in the future. It’s like building muscles--working the assertiveness, courage muscle gives us confidence to face similar situations in the future. It is a bonus if the person we’re confronting takes ownership of our concern and makes changes.
Author: Dr. David B. Hawkins
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