Friday, August 11, 2017

Verbal Errors

Last night, the small group I'm a part of at Hope met at our house. The Bible study was from the 3rd chapter of the book of James, all about the destructive power of the tongue, how the words we speak carry with them great potential for both good and evil. Since earlier this week I had temporarily lost all ability in this area, the topic was especially relevant. It produced a memory from probably twenty years ago...

I was in Atlanta at a Million Dollar Round Table meeting listening to a very wise man give a motivational talk. Among many profound truths he dispensed was this bit about verbal errors, which I will attempt to paraphrase here:

How you say things is often just as important as what you say. Suppose you're talking to your spouse and what you meant to say was, "what's troubling you?"...but what you actually said was, "what's wrong with you?" That's a verbal error that might be tolerable for a newlywed, but ten years into a marriage is inexcusable.

It's interesting that twenty years later, of all the things that this great man said, this paragraph is still etched into my memory. The reason for this is because, as someone who is well known for his hair-trigger wisecracks and speak first, apologize later style, this thoughtful truth resonated. What's troubling you sounds like a question that comes from a place of empathy and concern. What's wrong with you sounds like an accusation. Later the man said that whenever he was about to have any delicate conversation with his wife, he made a habit of rehearsing every sentence in his head before allowing it to come out of his mouth. I would like to say that I have always put this into practice over the last twenty years. Sadly, not true. But it has never been far from my heart. After all, the last thing anyone wants to do is say something hurtful to those we love.

It is a great mystery to me why some things come flying out of my mouth when they do. It's like, sometimes I'll say something and then think, where did that come from? Sometimes it's something really smart and insightful, which is always a shock. But more often than not, it's some ill-chosen phrase with the potential for great harm to its listener. My Dad had a theory about such verbal errors which used to give me pause...What's down in the well, eventually comes up in the bucket! If that's always the case, then my well needs some work. I think it's more a case of just being too anxious to be heard and less willing to listen. If we would just give our thoughts a minute to organize themselves first, we could avoid a world of grief.

So, each of us has a thousand opportunities each day to speak both blessings and curses. Each of us are in a position to make someone's day or ruin it with a word. This is the power of the tongue. Use it wisely.

Good grief! Reading back over this, it sounds an awful lot like a sermon. My apologies. Probably just post-stroke stress disorder or something!