Rev. Mr. Stewart advised three questions to be put to ourselves before speaking evil of any man: First, is it true? Second, is it kind? Third, is it necessary?
~Poynder’s Literary Extracts~
Recently the term “politically correct” has come to the fore in presidential campaign haggling. The term generally means speaking in ways which do not offend any individual or group. Certain politicians take pride in flouting convention by saying whatever comes into their minds without concern for who is offended. Instead, they say whatever occurs to them and it is up to others who might feel offended to just grow up.
They take this position under the guise of free speech. They are entitled to say whatever they want, regardless of how their words strike others. It’s not up to them to shield the rest of the world from their utterances. Free speech is a right included in the first amendment to the constitution with these words, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
This amendment was included to prevent Congress from making laws against free speech as well as other related rights. It was later generalized to apply to all levels of government. Nowhere does it say that it is okay to say whatever you want to without restriction. We have laws which prohibit damage to others by speech, specifically slander and libel which damages another’s reputation, inciting illegal behavior, and obscenity, although the courts have had difficulty defining just what is obscene.
Some people go to extremes to prevent their words from offending others. Others feel that it’s okay to say whatever they can get away with regardless of how others feel about it. Without considering the legal status of every statement, perhaps there is another way to evaluate our speech. We could stop to think before we open our mouths and ask ourselves the questions posed in the quote above.
Sometimes we repeat things we hear which might simply be gossip with no basis in reality. It is not illegal to gossip but it serves no useful purpose other than to sound as if we know what we are saying although we might not know anything about the truth of the matter. Gossip and rumors can harm the reputation of others, not to mention undermining our own credibility.
Is what you say kind? Do you say something to enhance or encourage others or are your words mean-spirited and spiteful? How would you like your words to be received? How would you like to be perceived by others? How would you like others to speak of you, especially when you are struggling to do the right thing and still make mistakes?
Is there any purpose for your words? Do they accomplish anything positive or are they just empty jabbering. That doesn’t mean we can’t tell stories. They are our way of sharing our fantasies, wishes and dreams. They just don’t need to be at someone else’s expense. I have heard an admonition from many parents, “If you have nothing kind to say, it’s better to keep your mouth shut.” Do your words accomplish anything or are they just idle chatter?
All of these tests for our speech imply respect for others. We don’t all agree on everything. Our opinions and feelings are based on our own experience which might be quite different from that of others. Before you go on the attack, stop and listen to the other person. You might learn something about yourself.
Life Lab Lessons
- Ask yourself if what you have to say is true.
- Is your opinion in the spirit of kindness for others?
- Will your words contribute anything positive to others?
- How would you feel if someone used your unkind words to describe you?
- Try to see others as fellow travelers rather than competitors.