Is it true? Is it timely? Does it lead to a positive result? These three questions were suggested to me nearly 30 years ago as a valuable test you should apply before opening your mouth to speak. The older I get the more filled with wisdom they seem.
Is it true? Are the statements you are about to make factually and emotionally honest or have you twisted them, shaded them to achieve your own agenda or worse yet to do harm to the person you are speaking to? This is an important block of hateful speech whether said to a stranger or to a person you claim to truly care about. Telling lies can be a terribly easy habit to get into and lies of omission – telling only half the truth – are easier and more dangerous in the long run.
But even if it is true is it timely? Is this the best moment to bring this up? When someone is full of grief is it the right time to try to correct their thinking or behavior? Sometimes the most support you can give someone is to stay silent. The temptation is always there, when a person is at their most vulnerable, to sweep in with the telling moment of brilliance to win this argument once and for all. Maybe you should save your brilliance for a better time when the person being spoken to has the stability to respond either positively or negatively to your insight.
Does it lead to a positive result? The urge to correct people is almost overwhelming sometimes. Yet, many people don’t appreciate your generosity of spirit in setting them straight. A brilliant truth told at the right moment may lead to a result you didn’t bargain for. Is it really worth losing a friendship or a lover just so you can say you are right?
Not that you should always remain silent. In the face of certain things I feel I must always speak up. We all have our own limits and we should know them. But I decided long ago that there are many things more valuable to me than the sound of my own voice. It has saved me a lot of grief – though at the cost of an occasionally bruised and bloody tongue – but I think that sometimes there is nothing more beautiful than a soft smile and silence.
But other times it is so very hard. When to be silent and when to shout your outrage to the stars? That is a question I still struggle over. But that’s okay. Nothing of value ever came without struggle.
And that’s ten minutes.