A wise woman, or maybe it was a wise man, once wrote that our faults irritate us most when we see them in others.
I’m wondering why that’s so. Maybe it’s the social mirror principle: that we don’t really see ourselves clearly until our behavior is reflected in someone else’s life.
When Mike was a youth pastor back in the 70’s and 80’s he knew that his student ministry would never grow if the teens didn’t feel safe within the group. I never recall him having to break up a fight; the teens he pastored were good kids who wouldn’t dream of attacking or bullying other members of the group.
But Mike knew there was a far more insidious risk to his kids’ safety: the power of the tongue. It drove him crazy when he overheard teens criticizing, belittling or gossiping about others in the group.
So he told his students one night at youth group that they had to learn to T.H.I.N.K. before they spoke. He doesn’t remember where he first heard the acronym he used to teach this concept but I still recall it decades later.
“Before you share information about someone else,” Mike said, “ask yourself these simple questions. Is what you have to say:
T – True. If not, it’s a no brainer!
H – Helpful. Does it convey information someone else needs to hear?
I – Instructive. Are your words constructive or destructive? Do they build up or tear down someone else?
N – Necessary. Is the one you’re telling in a “need to know” category? Are they in a position to do something about the situation?
K – Kind. Would you want someone speaking this way about you?
It’s interesting to me that these questions are summed up in Paul’s word to the Ephesians: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”
Some years ago I was walking with two friends when the conversation turned to a third – I’ll call her Tammy – who had not been able to join us. Tammy had a difficult home life and we all felt for her, but when the talk turned to what she should or shouldn’t be doing to help herself, I began to feel uncomfortable. Would we speak this way if Tammy were present? Were the comments instructive or necessary? No, no, and no again. I changed the subject quickly, but the incident left me with doubts. Would my friends discuss me if I had not been present?
A cardinal rule of friendship? Don’t talk about people in their absence as you would not in their presence.
James, half-brother to Jesus and the author of the New Testament letter that bears his name, learned this the hard way. Remember the bitter tirade he and his brothers unleashed in Capernaum when Jesus was teaching in a private home? “He’s out of his mind,” they shouted.
Yet Jesus’ post-Resurrection appearance to his skeptical, cynical brother must have finally convinced James beyond all doubt that Jesus truly was who He said He was. No wonder James wrote in his letter, “Brothers and sisters do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister or judges them speaks against the law and judges it.” (James 4:11)
Sometimes seeing behavior in others that makes us cringe helps us to see ourselves more clearly.
Dear Lord, help me T.H.I.N.K. before I speak!