Another old year shoved to the basement, we begin our 365-day ascent toward the apex of whatever the new year holds. Along this trek, we’ll be carrying baggage from the past, along with supplies to sustain us for the future. Much of those “supplies” will consist of words we’ll employ, sometimes for good – and sometimes not.
The year just concluded had more than its share of words, written and spoken. An inordinate measure of them seemed connected to the name “Trump,” many times not in good ways. Having no interest in using my first post of the year to dabble in that topic, it seems more appropriate to contemplate how we’ll utilize words in the coming days.
Not everyone is a “writer,” although nearly all of us write, even if it’s just via texts, email or social media. So, we’ve all the opportunity to use words as tools – or weapons. It’s a choice we all must make.
We not only choose which words to use – and how – but also have the option of not using words at all. That’s where I’d like to focus. It was humorist and social commentator Will Rogers who said, “Never miss a good chance to shut up.” He departed from this life in 1935, more than 80 years ago, but the wisdom of this witticism seems as apropos as ever.
It was not Rogers, however, who originated the novel idea that just because you think it, you’re not obligated to share it for all who will hear it. President Abraham Lincoln is reported to have said, “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and to remove all doubt.” Certainly many other wise observers have expressed similar cautions through the centuries, since the tendency to give someone a piece of one’s mind they can’t afford to lose seems universal.
This is underscored in the Scriptures, which offer dozens of admonitions about the virtues – and evils – of what we say and write. The closest to the statements above is Proverbs 17:28, which declares, “Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent, and discerning if he holds his tongue.”
There are others worth noting. Here’s a sampling:
- “He who guards his mouth and his tongue keeps himself from calamity” (Proverbs 21:23).
- “A man of knowledge uses words with restraint, and a man of understanding is even-tempered” (Proverbs 17:27).
- “Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones” (Proverbs 16:24).
- “The tongue that brings healing is a tree of life, but a deceitful tongue crushes the spirit” (Proverbs 15:4).
- “Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing” (Proverbs 12:18).
Then there’s my personal favorite, one I need to remind myself of often. I still have memory lapses, too many, but it’s steered me from trouble many a time: “When there are many words, transgression is unavoidable, but he who restrains his lips is wise” (Proverbs 10:19).
Even for those of us who regard ourselves as introverts, communication is an integral, inevitable part of daily living. Using admonitions like those above – embracing them even – can help in our desire to be part of the solution, rather than the problem in our world that’s increasingly infected by hate speech, intolerant tolerance and irrational inventive.
Whether we make New Year’s resolutions, set annual goals, or simply intend to “do better” in the coming year, we’d be well-advised to weigh what not to say, as well as what we should say.
Robert J. Tamasy is a veteran journalist, former newspaper editor and magazine editor. Bob has written hundreds of magazine articles, and authored, co-authored and edited more than 15 books. These include the newly re-published, “Business At Its Best,” “Tufting Legacies,” “The Heart of Mentoring,” and “Pursuing Life With a Shepherd’s Heart.” He edits a weekly business meditation, “Monday Manna,” which is translated into more than 20 languages and distributed via email around the world by CBMC International. To read more of Bob Tamasy’s writings, you can visit his blog, www.bobtamasy.blogspot.com, or his website (now being completed), www.bobtamasy-readywriterink.com. He can be emailed at email@example.com.