Talking Points

Last month, Jesse and I went to a short weekend marriage seminar. One of the things they talked about was how often we employ our speech in the service of defending ourselves and bolstering our image in others’ eyes – often at the expense of other people. The couple running the seminar challenged us to try something called ‘The Tongue Assignment,’ which consists of spending 24 hours (or more) without saying anything meant to do any of the following:
  • Defend yourself
  • Gossip
  • Blameshift
  • Complain
  • Excuse or explain your behavior
  • Boast
  • Deceive (even just a little bit!)
I thought it was a great idea, and reflected for several minutes on the many ways those elements routinely find their way into my speech. Of course, right after that, I forgot about the whole assignment entirely.

Last week I read a book called Simplicity Parenting, which I enjoyed for a number of reasons. In the book, the authors discussed reducing verbal clutter in your home by using the ‘True, Kind, Necessary’ filter. Choosing to say only things that are true, kind, and necessary is a concept that is rooted in a variety of wisdom and faith traditions, and basically, it just sounds like a good idea.

All of that so far is very wholesome and earnest sounding and all, but I’ve run into a problem. It sounds really… boring. Yeah, you probably wouldn’t hurt anyone’s feelings if you only said what was necessary, but wouldn’t you miss out on a lot of interesting, funny things, too? Maybe ‘necessary’ could be redefined as ‘beneficial.’

Where does wrong speech really come from, anyway? I think the key might have something to do with fear and pride. If I weren’t afraid of judgment and weren’t driven to make myself look good, hurtful or critical or petty words wouldn’t come so quickly to mind. Many times, the elements of fear or pride might be pretty subtle – not necessarily obvious to anyone who didn’t know what was going on inside me – but the cumulative effects of words driven by these basic motivations can still damage relationships.

So, can you be interesting and fun while sticking to what’s true, kind, and beneficial? Can you be witty without being hurtful or rude? Probably, it just takes some creativity, and diligence in guarding against words that are coming from masked arrogance, defensiveness, or resentment. Hmmm, no more excuses. I guess I’ve got my work cut out for me.


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