I have always considered myself a person of principle- with high ideals and strong convictions. So, naturally, I like to be right. The trouble is, when we always want to be right, we are always in conflict. There are times to speak your mind and stand your ground but, those times may not be as often as we might think. After years of charging ahead with righteous indignation, I have been humbled a bit and am learning to filter my causes with a few simple questions.
1. Am I responding, or reacting? The best way to determine this is to wait a bit before speaking. Take the time to determine if you have an intelligent, informed statement, or if you have an emotional reaction. When we react, we do not carefully weigh our thoughts, let alone our words, and often speak things that we later regret. Responding, on the other hand, allows you to think through exactly what you wish to communicate and select the best possible way to say it. This always increases your chances of being positively received. The wise will inherit honor, but fools get disgrace. – Proverbs 3:35
2. Are these the facts, or just how I feel? When you choose not to just react, and instead calculate a response, you allow yourself time to sort through emotions vs. facts. Oftentimes, in the moment, we can’t tell the difference. I love how Jeremiah 17:9 puts it, the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? We must remember that our emotions are influenced by many things and that they change often. If we are going to speak out, we want to do so with as many facts as possible. Never assume another person’s motives. If their actions have made you feel a certain way, communicate what they did and how it made you feel. These are both facts. The alternative of ‘You did this because…’ is both argumentative and unfounded. Always hold what you know in higher esteem than what you feel.
3. What else am I upset or stressed about? While feelings are not always accurate and reliable, they are very real and important. How you feel on a given day or season of your life will greatly impact how you interact with others. When you speak to someone about an issue, make sure you have assessed what else is going on in your life that might be influencing your position on the matter. Are you excessively tired, frustrated, or dragging up past hurts? If you want to speak clearly on an issue in a way that gets results, it is best to first carefully examine your own heart. For wisdom will come into your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul; discretion will watch over you, understanding will guard you. - Proverbs 2:9-10
4. Am I the best person to address this, or should someone else handle it? This one has become a game changer for me and has a two-fold application. First, I have learned that sometimes I need to tap out. As our kids have gotten older, and find themselves under the influence and authority of more people, issues have inevitably arisen. Two things I know: One - I love my kids more than life itself. Two - a Mamma Bear lives inside of me. While I am often the first one to suspect that my children are at fault, there are times when we moms may feel our kids are being unfairly treated or even hurt. I have learned that my husband handles this much more effectively than I do. While the occasions have been few, there have been times when I have tapped out and asked him to take over. A simple phone call to him that said, ‘I am VERY upset about this and would prefer for you to handle it calmly’, kept me from embarrassing myself. If you find that you are unable to move from reacting to responding, let someone you trust step in.
Secondly, I have learned that sometimes I become upset about things that are simply not my problem. Maybe the issue involves someone other than myself, or maybe I want to change something that is under someone else’s authority. In many cases, we may find ourselves with foot-in-mouth when we overstep our bounds and air opinions in arenas that belong to someone else. Tread lightly on other people’s turf. Whoever guards his mouth preserves his life; he who opens wide his lips comes to ruin. Proverbs 13:3
5. Is this situation likely to repeat itself? So often, those of us who live clinging to principles can die on a hill that we may never have to revisit. If you are worried about an incident being repeated, then it should be addressed to avoid future conflict. If it is a one-time event, it may be best to let it go. It is these times that we unknowingly are seeking to be proved right rather than make a difference for the future. If the situation or issue will not matter a month from now, then you can probably live without the gratification of speaking your peace today.
6. Will I still feel this way if no one else does? Make sure that the issues you take a stand on are true matters of conviction and not your echo of popular opinion. In today’s culture many are prone to speaking strongly on issues that create a buzz. This over-population of opinions can lead us to speak before we think. Stop and ask yourself, ‘if no one else agrees with me, will I still stand my ground?’
I am all for speaking out and standing up for what is right, but we must be careful that our main goal is not to declare ourselves as right. Take a deep breath, maybe sleep on it, and ask God for the wisdom of when to speak and when to keep silent.
Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips! Psalm 141:3