Five ways to avoid hurting with your words.

These days when we have a question, we can almost immediately satisfy our curiosity by whipping out our smart phones and googling it. I do this all the time. Unfortunately, accessing information this way doesn’t necessarily help us remember it. Most of the time, once I’ve satisfied my curiosity, I forget the answer I looked up. It’s like we’re all players in a real life game of trivial pursuit, except we don’t really have to know anything. We can just google it.

While I may not retain some of what I google in curious whimsy, I have learned a tremendous amount from my own online research. Everything from building a website to installing an electric window regulator in a Honda Accord. The global knowledge base is there for anyone with a device to access.

wisdom

While I’ve learned quite a bit online, sometimes it’s hard to practically do what you learn because there are subtleties in any job that you can only learn by doing. This is the difference between wisdom and knowledge. While doing my daughter’s brakes, the first took me about 45 minutes.  The second took me nine.

Knowledge is – the fact or condition of knowing something with familiarity gained through experience or association” – (Websters Online Dictionary). Wisdom on the other hand is – Accumulated philosophic or scientific learning; Knowledge, ability to discern inner qualities and relationships. Insight, good sense; Judgment, generally accepted belief – (Websters Online Dictionary).

To break it down a little, Knowledge is knowing. Facts have been accumulated, stored and remembered, while Wisdom is the skillful use of knowledge. One can be wise in one area but foolish in another, while possessing knowledge in both areas.  When I see a wise man, I understand that in the area that he is wise, it’s not his first time dealing in it. He’s not a novice.

I say all of this because I want to be wise when dealing with others. I don’t want to rely on knowledge only when dealing with people. I care about people. I spend time thinking about interactions and in some cases, I try to choose words and actions in advance. I do this because if I see a potential problem, I want to do all I can to avoid it, and sometimes that means seeing it coming and deciding in advance how I will handle it so that in the moment, I’m not overtaken by high emotions or stress.

That’s why it bothers me so much when I do get swept up in emotion and stress. Sometimes, things just get sideways.

A few years ago I made someone so angry that they stopped speaking to me. I didn’t mean to make them that angry, but they were reaching out for help and I didn’t see it. Instead, I saw them being melodramatic and manipulative. They were hurting and I didn’t realize how much. I was insensitive, rude and I hurt their feelings. I also didn’t see how strong their response would be, so I was totally shocked when it all went south.

I am thankful to say that we have fixed things between us and are enjoying a good relationship, but it’s not the first time I’ve hurt someone and not seen it coming. I sometimes have a big mouth. I really don’t like when I hurt people so I’ve compiled a short list of things I try to do to avoid it.

  1. Ask God for wisdom.
    James 1:5 If any of you needs wisdom to know what you should do, you should ask God, and he will give it to you. God is generous to everyone and doesn’t find fault with them. (GW).
  2. Consider the end.
    Proverbs 22:3 says A prudent man foresees the evil and hides himself, but the simple pass on and are punished. The fool passes all the signs of trouble but doesn’t see them. They just roll down the road at full speed and are surprised when they run into trouble. A wise man by contrast, will see the trouble coming and take action to either stop it, or side step it. Jeff Walker calls this Looking through the corners.  It’s a reference to being in a race. When you are moving fast, the wrong thing to do is to just look right in front of you. If you do that, problems will enter your field of vision too late for you to respond.  If you look thought the corners, you’ll see it coming and you will have plenty of time to take action.  We can to this with interpersonal relationships too. We can anticipate certain problems and head them off before they can happen.
  3. Look to your elders for wisdom.
    I remember a situation while serving in a helps ministry at church.  Something happened that hurt our leaders. Everyone saw it and everyone knew that they were hurt. I remember talking to one of them and asking her what she was going to do. I was expecting her to outline a strategy for dealing with it but that’s not what she did. She responded with this. “I’m going to forgive them. What other choice do I have?” That answer has stayed with me and helped me on many occasions. This woman loves God and loves people. The Lord commanded her to forgive, (Mark 11:25). Neither she, nor the Lord consider this to be a suggestion.  It didn’t come with options. She knows and has demonstrated that to obey means to forgive. In like manner, our elders can often see things from a higher perspective than we can, and can often offer excellent guidance.
  4. Let everything come from a heart of love.
    Let your reasons for saying or doing anything be motivated by a true desire to help and to show love. Many people have been hurt by people saying “Well, I told them the truth!” Scripture says about believers that we: “speaking the truth in Love, may grow up in Him in all things” (Eph 4:15). I don’t think its accidental that when we are speaking the truth IN LOVE, that we are showing signs of maturity and growth. It’s important that we make sure our words are born of love and are spent out of our mouths with the purpose of edifying and strengthening one another.
  5. Shut up.
    Truthfully, no one wants free advice, so we shouldn’t be quick to give advice unless we’re asked. Most of the time, when people are wanting to talk, we need to answer the other half of that equation…we need to listen. Many people are looking to share and to be heard. It’s only when they ask that we should think it appropriate to advise. We need to watch for the phrase “You know what you should do?” While it’s usually coming from a honest desire to help, it often has an underlying message. “You know what you should do? Follow my advice because it’s obvious that you don’t know how to live your life”. While people may not intend to send this message, it’s often the one that’s heard.

Interpersonal relationships can be tricky sometimes, depending on the people involved. I don’t think any of us get out of bed in the morning thinking “Who can I pick a fight with today?”, but sometimes the fight just finds you. My prayer is that I’ve given you some practical things to help you avoid hurting people with your words.

While I know that sharing this sort of stuff is hard because none of us really wants to show our shortcomings, do you have a story that can help others? Please join the conversation & leave a comment.

Also – If this has helped you in any way and you think it can help someone else, please consider sharing.

Thank You!

Art

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