In a dog-eat-dog world, one misspoken word is like fresh meat to a starving stray. And that one word, from one sentence at one moment in time can mean ruination to the person behind the lips that uttered it. Even if explained, retracted or clarified, a loosed word is not easily tamed.
The whole process is not entirely fair, for none of us is perfect. We each often speak before we think. It's just that most of us don't have 50 microphones shoved in our faces recording it, then playing it over and over again. So tell me, how do you think you would fare if every time you opened your mouth, someone was waiting to pounce and devour your reputation or your career? I know I would panic and prefer being a mute than being that fresh meat for the media.
This past week made me think about some of my own verbal blunders. A slip of the tongue has left me looking insensitive, stupid, arrogant, indifferent, sassy or unkind. I've jumped to conclusions. I've ignored obvious clues that would guide me through a set of circumstances. There have been times when I wish I could erase certain words and start all over again. Yes, words -- I've had to eat them.
Ever been there? Said one thing, meant another? Have you spoken and then freaked because you were terribly misinterpreted? I've lost friends and gained enemies over seemingly insignificant, ill-spoken words! At times, I've tried desperately to set the record straight – to no avail. More words meant to mend just splintered the boards I was trying to nail back in the fence.
There is power in the tongue – the power of life and death (Proverbs 18:21). Words aptly spoken are sweet (Prov. 25:11) and words misspoken, like poison (Prov. 15:1-4). And since none of us has mastered the golden lips and silver tongue of no mistakes when it comes to loquacious expressions, perhaps there's room for grace when someone else steps on his tongue. Remember how we should pray:
“'Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.'
“For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Matthew 6:12-15)
Instead of assuming the worst, how about extending a second chance. Rewind! Do-over! Please, explain yourself! I'll listen to you, if you'll do the same for me.
In addition to praying to forgive, Jesus instructed that we should be very careful when we condemn others without taking a hard look at ourselves.
“'Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.
“'Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, “Let me take the speck out of your eye,” when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye.'” (Matthew 7:1-5)
Whether it's a plank in the eye or fumbling lips, it's more important that we help a brother or sister out of sin, than condemn them.
It's sure to happen again. Some slip of the tongue will send the pack circling and salivating. When it happens, how will you react? With patience, forgiveness, or consideration? Will you check the facts, understand the pressure, or assume the worst of the person? Are you going to treat the vocal fumbler as you'd want to be treated?
I'm trying to learn and practice respect in a land of hyper assumption where always the worst is assumed, and often fabricated. God gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason -- so we'd listen more and talk less. He must have known how much trouble we'd get ourselves into with teeth and tongue and lips. But He also gave us heads to think and hearts to forgive. How about we put those to work as much or more the next time somebody says something he or she regrets.