3 questions to ask yourself before you talk
I have a problem. And this is how I found out about it.
Remember that cute triad of questions people ask themselves before they engage in conversation.
Is it true?
Is it kind?
Is it necessary?
It’s something I have read over and over lately. And it kind of bothers me. But in order to be clear, let me give you a little background.
I love garage sales. And that summer was no exception. My husband and I were visiting his Aunt Lois and Uncle Don. Lois had suggested we go for a walk and I was all for it.
“Then on the way back, we can hit the garage sale across the street,” she suggested.
It was a win-win. Looking around at all the treasures piled on card tables, my eyes fell on the game Rummikub, one of my favorites. So I looked for a dollar in my wallet and handed it to the woman taking money. Her eyes twinkled as the summer sun made her white hair sparkle.
“You’ll like that game,” she said as she placed it in a bag for me. “It’s with letters.”
“I’ve had that game before,” I responded. “It’s with numbers.”
As we walked away, I was aware of Lois’ eyes on me. She leaned in and whispered,
“You just had to do that, didn’t you?”
“What!?” I protested, knowing full well what she was referring to.
“You just had to correct her,” she continued ensuring I was not missing her point.
“She was wrong,” I stated, as my only defense.
And then Lois said words that I would not forget. Words that still bother me to this day, so many years later.
“What difference does it make?”
Those words made me so uncomfortable. Mainly because I could not come up with a comeback.
The smiling woman was wrong. Isn’t it okay to point out the errors of others?
What I said was true. RummiKub was a game with numbers. Everyone knew that. Well, almost everyone.
And I said it kindly. I even wore a smile to soften my words. I didn’t hurt her. I was nice.
But when I think about Lois’ last question, “What difference did it make?”
I realized my words were not necessary.
Unless I wanted to be above the person I was talking to. Okay now I’m uncomfortable.
That day I did a lot of searching. I came to the realization that in my conversations, being right was more important to me than the person I was talking to. That‘s even harder to write.
Lois would point things out to me to help me. She was after all, the one who introduced me to Christ at her home Bible study. But Lois’ words were not always comfortable to hear. She was concerned about me. Her words passed the 3 question quiz. But I have to admit, sometimes the truth doesn’t always feel very kind. Where did I learn how to be critical, I wondered. But not for very long.
I remember sitting around our dinner table growing up. Our mom had just placed a delicious meal on the table for the seven of us. She worked so hard.
And from the time my dad picked up his fork and started shoveling, he was thinking of what to say. Mom waited to hear his approval. But honestly, I don’t think she ever got it. Not one time.
“It needed a little more salt…it could have used a bit more pepper…you know what I think?” those words just poured out of him.
And I watched as she would shrink before my very eyes. It didn’t take long for her enthusiasm for cooking to dwindle.
And a light bulb went on. That’s where I learned it.
And it would be easy to stop right there, blaming my environment growing up for how I turned out. But I’m not a child anymore.
I am a critical person. But I’m trying to change.
Old habits die hard.
The good news is that even though we learn bad habits, we can learn to replace them with good ones.
So I’ve been asking God to help me. It’s okay for me to have a lot opinions. I just don’t have to express them. But, I’ve been doing this for years.
Well, lately, I’ve been doing some tongue biting.
And I’ve become more aware of unnecessary things I let come out of my mouth.
I’ve also realized that the root of that is pride. Something I know God is working on in my life.
That day at the garage sale, I cared more about being right than I cared about anything else.
So if I want to stop being a critical person, I need to shift my focus from me, to the other person.
You’d think I would have learned this one day in Biology lab, as a returning student. We had just received our papers back from a quiz. Barbara was unhappy seeing one of her answers was marked wrong.
Mentioning it to the teacher’s aid was fine. She had every right to do that. But what was a little over the top was how she did it. By the time she was done the teacher’s aid needed a break. Barbara would not let it go.
Quietly I wondered if my need to be right, looked like that. Some lessons need to be repeated for us to learn them. God loves us enough to oblige. As long as we’re breathing in and out, we have time to learn, and even time to change.
It’s never too late to do the right thing.
Each time I engage in a conversation I get another opportunity to do it right. And to ask myself:
Is it true?
Is it kind?
Is it necessary?
And maybe I can do what God says in his Word. Be quick to hear and slow to speak.
Sometimes I get that backwards.
Just because I think I’m right, doesn’t mean I have to make that known. Jesus was right, and sometimes he kept silent.
My name is Anne, and I’m a recovering critical person.