We’re all familiar with the admonition, “Look before you leap.” Makes sense – a leap of a few feet might be of little consequence, but leaping off a cliff or from a building several stories high wouldn’t be a good idea. So preceding our leaping with our looking seems quite wise.
We could say something similar about speaking, especially in these days of quick, immediate communication – texting, email, voicemail, social media. A proper admonition would be, “Think before you speak.”
Recently I came across an acronym that encourages us to do just that. This acronym, THINK, stands for:
T – is it true?
H – is it helpful?
I – is it inspiring?
N – is it necessary?
K – is it kind?
Unfortunately, much of our communication these days is anything but these. We don’t seek to check the veracity of statements we hear and read. If we agree with them, if they reinforce our biases and prejudices, they must be true, right? Why bother trying to be helpful when we can belittle and degrade? Rather than inspiring, we too often opt for discouraging and criticizing. Much of what we communicate, whether in person or via impersonal methods, isn’t necessary at all. And sadly, kindness is sometimes our last consideration when we’re intent on giving someone a piece of our mind.
Not to dwell on politics, but since this is a Presidential election year, I think it would be extremely refreshing – surprising, or even shocking – if the candidates would choose to focus on their own strengths and views and policies rather than exerting so much energy in trying to discredit and diminish their opponents. Don’t bet on it.
But we don’t have to be running for public office to find value in a commitment to THINK before we say something.
Perhaps the strongest biblical admonition along these lines is found in Ephesians 4:29, which tells us, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”
The Scriptures don’t stop there. Repeatedly passages in the Bible urge that if we don’t have something good to say, it’s better to zip the lip. For instance, Ecclesiastes 10:12 states, “Words from the mouth of the wise are gracious, but fools are consumed by their own lips.” Remind you of anyone you know, or someone you’ve seen on the news?
Proverbs 13:3 offers these words of caution: “He who guards his lips guards his life, but he who speaks rashly will come to ruin.” The Bible’s book of wisdom also states, “A man who lacks judgment derides his neighbor, but a man of understanding holds his tongue” (Proverbs 11:12).
Even Jesus taught sternly against waging a war of words. Speaking to religious leaders of the day, He said, “You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks…. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:34-37).
And as followers of Christ, we should be striving to emulate Jesus’ example of saying only what is fitting for the moment. As the apostle Paul wrote, “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone” (Colossians 4:6).
Then there’s one more admonition I’m often reminded of when tempted to speak impulsively what’s on my mind: “Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent, and discerning if he holds his tongue” (Proverbs 17:28).