Controlling our Tongues: Saying the Wrong Things, and Learning to Stop
Aren't you constantly amazed at how much power and influence our tongues wield? One minute we're uplifting and encouraging someone, the next minute we can literally kill with hurtful words.
One of my not-so-fine experience during my masters programme happened at a potluck Afro-Carribean dinner. Carribeans and Africans generally love a good meal - infused with flavour. While many of us gathered around the electric cooker as someone fried plantains and another put finishing touches to the jerk ribs - our classmate walked in, apologising for being slightly late. She took off her gloves and proceeded to take off her scarves and jacket.
In the midst of her doing that, I think I must have said "these layers make you look fat". In a split second, the atmosphere in the room froze and honestly, as cliche as this sounds you could have put a knife through the tension in the room. It was thick. I realised how the last three words I uttered had obviously been misinterpreted. To make things worse, a couple of people chose to say "oh Kachi there's some things you just shouldn't say". I wished I could take back the words. I could see how visibly hurt she was, and even though she proceeded to accept my heart-felt apology our camaderie was just never quite the same. Which is such a shame. But then fat was the very last thing i intended to say. I sort of just meant to say she had on a number of layers.
I later realised that she was a bit sensitive about her hips and lower body size, and so those words hit a nerve.
In our everyday life, there are so many ways we often misuse our tongues. These include:
1. Saying hurtful words: Like the one that happened above. I agree sometimes, it's so not intentional and sometimes the supposed hurtful word seems so trivial. I remember I once got quite hurt when I had been all dressed up one day and my husband said "you're wearing this shoe again"? Lol! See, now I'm laughing but then I thought "why so mean" and it really got to me?
2. Slander/Calumny and Detraction: Slander and Calumny refer to making of FALSE statements about someone in order to damage their reputation. There's a fair chance that many people do not intentionally set out to slander. But then, let's consider Detraction. The difference between this and the first category, is that Detraction is tarnishing a person's reputation by saying stuff that is in many cases TRUE. But the fact that it's true doesn't mean that we must say it. For example, if someone in her past life, was a thief or a prostitute, doesn't mean we must, at the earliest opportunity, fill everyone in on this fact. To bring it closer to home, many times I come across 'juicy' gists about a person and i'm itching to spill to Tee and my friends. But on second thought, they'll likely (unknowingly) judge this person so it's not much use.
3. Gossip/ Back biting: I've been in gathering where as soon as one person steps out, (s)he becomes the subject of conversation. And I'm hardly comfortable being there, because I often wonder what gets said about me when I step out.
4. Lies: A bit of white lie here and there for convenience may not be harmful. But still, frequent white lies do no good. Even if these are not harmful to anyone, it could lead to a loss of integrity and people cease to take you seriously. In addition, sometimes, the smallest white lie has such a huge ripple effect.
In this digital age, where we often engage in faceless communication, it's worth thinking about what we say online. Are you one to hide behind your computer and leave insulting, disrespecting remarks about people. Or munch a picture of the girl you really don't like and gossip about her in one of your Whatsapp groups?
Choosing to avoid misusing our tongues is such a conscious decision. And sometimes, really that news is just to 'juicy' to not share. But to what end?. Here's a few ways we can intentionally seek to limit how we misuse our words:
- Take a minute to think about what you're about to say or do (particularly as regards online communication). Fruitful or nah? There's an acronym for this. WAIT - Why Am I Talking?
- Make a decision to avoid engaging in gossip. One place that was always the worst, was the local salons. Good grief, they never ran out of what to say about the neighbours. Choose instead to read a book or plug your ears. And honestly, after gauging the crowd, it may be okay to say 'Guys do you really have to discuss this?' Chances are they'll stop and continue when you leave, but at least, you made your point. Office gossip is also increasingly common, that we fail to even realise it's gossip.
- Instead of saying something hurtful, try complimenting instead. There has to be something good to say! I once heard this funny story. A very mean and wicked man had died, and the whole neighbourhood was jubilating, estactic. Only one woman kept wailing. Why? When asked, she said "Oh he had such perfect white teeth. So sad that those teeth are no more". Go figure!
- Listen more and do less (unnecessary) talking generally. This is the reason we have two ears and one mouth.
- Just keep quiet. Hard, I know - as many times you have the perfect insulting remark to just say to someone!
For those of us who tend to get hurt when people joke about our shoes and all, let's not take life that seriously, especially when we know they meant no harm. No need being overly sensitive to what people say and reading a million un-intended meanings into it.
Finally for Christians, it ultimately takes the Grace of God, and we must seek His grace to tame our tongues. I'm amazed at the number of verses that speak about the power of the tongue! Please take a minute to see an exhaustive and really helpful list here. And I love this article on ways to control our tongue - especially the bit of dedicating our tongues to God each day.
I'm sure we've all had any experiences were we've been hurt by people's words? Or were we've hurt someone with our words knowingly or unknowingly - and then regretted this? Let's talk about it! Whats's your greatest struggle in keeping your tongue in check and what's the way forward? I know there's so much more to be said on this, so I'm relying on you to share your thoughts and continue the conversation!
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