Doing the right thing is often a fine balance between speaking up and saying nothing at all. For some, both are a real struggle. But for different temperaments, one may be a lot harder than the other.
The truth is, both can be valuable virtuous acts; what we need is the wisdom to know when which one is required.
We’ve all been told “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all”. And I think that’s a good place to start.
Don’t say nasty things, don’t use rough language, don’t say something you wouldn’t willingly admit to saying infront of everyone. That’s simple enough.
But I used to think we should only be silent when things are unkind or untrue. That’s not necessarily the case.
We should constantly be checking our words and asking ourselves:
Is this true?
Is it kind?
Is it helpful?
What’s my motive here?
If it’s not true – don’t say it.
If it’s not kind – why is it not kind? Is that because you are dragging someone’s name through the mud or because you’re being overly critical? People do need to hear things they don’t want to hear, but criticism can always be delivered with love.
If something is kind, or being said out of kindness, is it helpful? Are you saying this ‘kind thing’ to encourage someone or give them feedback, or are you taking an opportunity to have a non-productive dig at them?
Which brings us to the last CHECK-YOURSELF moment: what is your motive?
Are you giving a genuine compliment or are you being a suck-up? Are you warning someone about the devious ways of another for their own safety or are you having a rant? Are you criticising someone to truly help them improve or are you getting on your high horse?
All of these things can be truly answered interiorly. And it can mean the difference between speaking virtuously or with vice.
For example, you may have a friend you need to call out for some bad behaviour at a social event. But calling them out infront of others shouldn’t be your first point of call. First, try find the opportunity to tell them in private that you are worried about them causing harm to themselves, and maybe others. Don’t speak up to make yourself feel good – do it with the aims of making them know they are loved.
This is when we choose to speak.
Even before we have this conversation, we should pray the silent prayer: “Come Holy Spirit. Let them hear you, not me.”
We don’t call people out to shame them. We call them out to remind they are capable of better and they are worthy of more.
When we can’t do this, we should choose silence.
Sometimes, something does need to be said, but we aren’t the one to do it. That’s the role of a higher authority, someone closer to that individual, or it just isn’t the right time. And if we are uncomfortable with this silence, we can also pray the silent prayer: “Come Holy Spirit. Let them hear you, not me.”
We all know the power of words when we are on the receiving end of them. So let’s not be wasteful with our words, let’s choose our moments for silence and words and speak with conviction so that when we do talk, our listener is truly loved.