Saturday, October 5, 2013

The Forgotten Virtue

Recently I had occasion to spend time with a couple of people who have an unfortunate tendency to run at the mouth. It's a peculiar and uncomfortable feeling to be in the company of someone who has no control, no filter, on the things they say. It's like watching a terrible traffic accident happen before your eyes and you are powerless to stop it.

"Life and death are in the power of the tongue," says Proverbs,"and those who love it will eat it's fruit." This is true in both the positive and negative aspects. If we are temperate with our tongue we will enjoy positive results. Conversely, if we are intemperate, we will eat the bitter fruit of the damage we wreak. We don't really appreciate the truth of that until we see living examples of it, for good and for ill, in action.

Our words are the common coin of our relationships. For those who bridle their tongue, who choose their words with wisdom and who speak words of life giving affirmation, the fruit they will enjoy will be unshakeable relationships and the joy of seeing loved ones bloom through their other centered encouragement.

Not long ago I heard someone say that perhaps the foremost characteristic of a wise person was "gentle power under control." Time spent with such a person is refreshing and lifts you up. They speak judiciously from a deep resevoir of quiet yet humble confidence and the choice words they share are offered thoughtfully and with loving care. Such people, whether consciously or not, have learned the priceless value of a lost virtue in today's culture: discretion. We are, as a people, woefully lacking in discretion these days. Have you checked your Facebook page or Twitter today?

For those with no restraint on their tongue, their world revolves around themselves, being as they are infinitely impressed with the value of their own opinions. Like an unruly child unleashed to rampage through a glassware shop, they careen from buffoonish opinion to unsolicited advice to tactless disparagements, all suffused with an ample supply of generally worthless blather. Time spent with such a person is mentally draining. The power of their tongue inflicts wreckage ranging from mere annoyance to deep hurt. The fruit they will eat from their tongue is to live in a colorless world devoid of meaningful relationships, because others distance themselves from such a loud mouth. Sadly, the antagonist is usually cluelessly unaware of the relational poverty in which they live.

An interesting correlation: Those with a wise and temperate demeanor tend to speak quietly and gently; those who prattle tend to be loud.

Upon reflection, I think I can reduce most of the need for control of the tongue to one simple axiom: Not everything that enters your brain should exit your mouth.

To be fair, we all, myself included, have had plenty of times when we regretted things we have said. The mark of a growing person though, is that they are conscious of the need to exercise discretion in what they say and ask God to grow them in this area. James says that such a person is mature, because if a person has learned to control their tongue, then every other area of their life will fall into line.

If we sought mightily for maturity just in this one area, if we truly valued discretion, we would go a long way toward growing wise and virtuous in all areas of life.