The tongue is an incredibly powerful muscle, it can discourage or encourage, praise or curse, gossip or spread rumour, express love, hate or anything in between. If you believe in creation as set out in Genesis, (God) speaking brought the world into existence!
As children, many of us were given the simple message “if you’ve not got anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all”, this helps us stop before we speak and evaluate whether our words are nasty or nice, mean or kind, cruel or compassionate.
I don’t think I’m alone when I say I’m guilty of letting my tongue get the better of me. When I’m feeling a bit rubbish, I’ll say a curt word, for some reason, want to bring down the people around me – I can be nice and polite in public but it’s my husband who gets the less than helpful comments and underhand criticism. I don’t mean to be harsh, sometimes things just come out.
We’ve all been around people who seem to just want to discourage, knock confidence and generally hinder, cause difficulty or seem to oppose everything. I’m going to be blunt and say it’s best to let people like that slip out of your life but of course, this isn’t always possible.
I was asked in some recent bible teaching (name drop alert), with Simon Ponsonby(!), “how do you respond to criticism” – my answer was that I used to take it really badly, take it to heart, I would even twist it to fit my belief that I was useless, pointless and couldn’t do anything right. More recently, I’ve noticed I’m more likely to defend myself or even shut out the criticism; this is because I’m aware my self esteem incredibly fragile so if I take the criticism as I used to, it would mean all the work I’ve done to build myself up would be wasted.
However, we discussed that criticism can help us develop and be better people. This, of course, has to be the magical ‘constructive criticism’ – to give this kind of advise is about finding the right balance.
So, when I hear criticism, it’s important to evaluate it immediately and decide if it’s going to cut me down or whether it has the possibility to help develop me. If the latter, it needs to be listened to, understood and taken on board.
In the bible teaching, Simon was looking the book of James, chapter 3, about taming the tongue.
It’s not about saying nice things or not saying the horrible things you really want to say. We all know passive aggressive people who communicate incredibly loudly with their silence or through their fake niceness…this makes for a toxic atmosphere.
It’s about wanting the best for those around us, it’s about considering what they need to hear (NOT what we think they need to hear) but making sure you communicate effectively and take time to ensure they’ve heard what you intended.
Thinking about taming my tongue I’ve looked up the definition; although many definitions of the verb to “tame” suggest, submission or lacking in something, I’ve come across one that I think is more helpful when thinking about taming the tongue:
“To harness or control; render useful, as a source of power.”
This recognises the capacity of the tongue and that it can be used to accomplish great things. I’ve been challenged to tame my tongue, to think before I speak and (not stay silent) but speak with love and compassion, and ensure what I say builds up those around me. If I feel critical or argumentative, I need to consider what is best for the other person – can I rephrase what I want to say so they benefit instead of feeling got at?
I will THINK before I speak and consider whether it is: