If you can’t say something nice…
August 13, 2014
…don’t say anything at all. We all grew up with that directive from parents and teachers. It’s still practical today. With all the differing viewpoints on just about everything from politics to celebrity behavior and religion to health and everything in between, it’s become so easy to just put our opinion out there and let the chips fall where they may. If we offend someone, no big deal.
Jesus had a different idea about that. He said, “all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them.” It’s called the Golden Rule and it’s found in the Sermon on the Mount. (Matt chapters 5 to 7) It requires of us, even when we have strong feelings about something, to speak in a way that elevates the conversation and respects the other players – whether you know them or not; to temper our words with kindness.
It doesn’t mean that we don’t say or do the tough things that need to be said and done. Jesus had some strong words and did some very hard things out of the deepest love for his fellow man. For example, look how he rebuked Peter who had just confirmed that his Master was the hoped for Christ, when the disciple suggested Jesus shouldn’t allow himself to be crucified. He said, “Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men.” (Matt 16:23)
And that is precisely where we get into trouble today: by acting from our own human sense of “how it should be” instead of from a more divinely directed outlook. God has bestowed on man useful qualities such as patience, intelligence, courage, meekness – what Paul calls the fruit of the Spirit. (Gal 5:22,23) And to the extent that we subjugate our own willful tendencies to these higher expressions do we move conversations and relationships forward in a more harmonious way.
Everyone has the capacity to contribute something positive to every event. Does that mean then, that we just add fluff when the substance is too hard to handle? Of course not. Fluff is not in keeping with the Golden Rule any more than crudity or unkindness. If it’s our place to add substance to the discussion, we should do it – charitably and with brotherly kindness.
Mary Baker Eddy once wrote, “It requires the spirit of our blessed Master to tell a man his faults, and so risk human displeasure for the sake of doing right and benefiting our race.” (Science and Health p. 571) This is a useful guideline for determining both our motives and our process.
Every step, every word, every thought – to the extent that we are watchful and prayerful, and especially willing – can be taken in a spirit of love. Love can sooth, it can lift, it can compel, it can correct. It can even heal, as Jesus showed.
The Apostle Paul put forth a wonderful sense of the power and requirements of love in his first epistle to the Corinthians, chapter 13. This version is from JB Phillips: If I speak with the eloquence of men and of angels, but have no love, I become no more than blaring brass or crashing cymbal. If I have the gift of foretelling the future and hold in my mind not only all human knowledge but the very secrets of God, and if I also have that absolute faith which can move mountains, but have no love, I amount to nothing at all. If I dispose of all that I possess, yes, even if I give my own body to be burned, but have no love, I achieve precisely nothing. This love of which I speak is slow to lose patience – it looks for a way of being constructive. It is not possessive: it is neither anxious to impress nor does it cherish inflated ideas of its own importance. Love has good manners and does not pursue selfish advantage. It is not touchy. It does not keep account of evil or gloat over the wickedness of other people. On the contrary, it is glad with all good men when truth prevails. Love knows no limit to its endurance, no end to its trust, no fading of its hope; it can outlast anything. It is, in fact, the one thing that still stands when all else has fallen. In this life we have three great lasting qualities – faith, hope and love. But the greatest of them is love.
Melissa Hayden is a Christian Science practitioner in Salem, OR. You can find more information and additional articles at this link. If you like what you’re reading, click the “add me” button.