There may be some mamas that don’t drill this into their children but if there are, they don’t live south of the Mason-Dixon line.
Every time there was back and forth in the back seat or on the front porch and Mama overheard, we were told, “If you can’t say anything nice, then don’t say anything at all.”
Parents weren’t interested in policing every errant word out of the under 18 crowd’s mouth back in the day.
It was a simple (and effective!) rule: If what you want to say does not meet the criteria of T.H.I.N. K. (true, helpful, inspiring, necessary, kind) then
I wish grown-ups would follow the same advice.
Especially when it comes to offering up “helpful hints” to broken hearts.
In that instance it is rarely a case of another person aiming to be ugly or to hurt someone, but words are not neutral and they do hurt when tossed out carelessly by people who really just don’t understand another person’s pain.
So, for those who are tempted to fill empty spaces with empty words, may I help you apply the T.H.I.N.K acronym to the kinds of situations more likely to face us as adults?
T-Is it true? You may think that giving out a Bible verse would automatically mean you were safe on this count. Yes. God’s Word is truth. But how we use it and whether or not we understand the context can make a particular application of God’s Word UNTRUE. And even if we get the context right, hammering a heart with a Bible verse may not be helpful. You are not the Holy Spirit. Let Him breathe truth gently into a wounded heart.
H-Is it helpful? This is tricky because sometimes what is helpful for one person is unhelpful for another. I try to use this as my litmus test: When have I ever been distraught and helped by someone pointing out the obvious? Or laying out a plan of action (when they don’t have access to the full picture)? Or reminding me that “all things work together for good” when right now all things really stink? If there is any doubt about whether or not what I say will be helpful, I swallow my words.
I-Is it inspirational? The word, “inspire” has roots in the the idea of breathing into someone or something. Will my comment put wind in a person’s sails? Will it breathe courage into his or her heart? Will it lift them up and help them hold onto hope? Is it the equivalent of mouth-to-mouth resuscitation or am I instead sucking what little breath they have left out of their body?
N-Is it necessary? This single criteria helps me hold my tongue so many times. I might think of lots of things but is is necessary for me to speak them? Am I warning someone of impending danger or am I just trying to make myself sound wise or insisting on making a point? To be honest, very few things I have to say are necessary. Most of the time a hand on the shoulder, a hug, a smile, a friendly nod are the only thing someone really needs.
K-Is it kind? The word kind comes from the same root as “kin”-which means family. Is what I’m going to say something I’d want someone to say to me or my close family? Am I treating (with my words) this person they way I want to be treated? The Golden Rule, rules.
I can’t claim to always follow my own good advice.
But when I do, I find that I am building people up, not tearing them down.
There’s enough tearing down in the world.
I want to speak light and life.