“The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer, but the mouth of the wicked pours out evil things.” – Proverbs 15:28
I have a mentor who always knows exactly what to say. Sometimes it’s a word of encouragement. Sometimes it’s a question. Sometimes he challenges me to reflect and apply a Scriptural truth. But every time, it’s gold. I wonder, How does he do it? How is he always so helpful? Conversely, I hear other people share thoughts or opinions (always critical) that cause me to wonder, Does this person have a single constructive relationship? How can we explain such a wide gulf in the usefulness of what people have to say?
On a surface level, I could chalk this up to personality and training. Some folks have people skills, others don’t. Some have thought deeply and received training in fields of interpersonal communication; others are oblivious. But this proverb shows us there’s something more happening. The righteous person knows how to answer, while the wicked person just spews out evil, destructive things. The helpfulness of your speech is actually a product of your character.
A wicked person doesn’t set out to be a tornado of obtuseness. On the contrary, they believe they serve as universal benefactors, dropping pearls of wisdom on whoever is fortunate enough to pass by their cloud of blessing. When Sam’s words leave you shaken and disturbed, he may leave you the postscript, “I’m just being honest!” When Jill’s words leave you shocked and hurt, she may be so kind as to help you see that she’s “just telling you how it is.”
The truth is, this kind of person doesn’t really care how you receive what they have to say. They don’t care how balanced, nuanced, timely, or even accurate their words are. The point is that they said it. You’re welcome. The righteous person, on the other hand, ponders what he says because he cares about whom he’s saying it to. She desires to be genuinely helpful to you, rather than assuming that of course she’s helpful, because it’s her!
There were times when Jesus was very blunt and direct, and other times when he used parables, analogies, and riddles. Jesus spoke softly to hurting sinners, but aggressively to the self-righteous religious. Jesus knows exactly what we need to hear, and when and how we need to hear it. His goal is never merely air-dropping accurate information, or setting the record straight. He is in the business of saving and helping people.
When we move the focus of what we say to the goal of helping the person we are talking to, the matter becomes more complex than “speaking your truth.” That doesn’t mean there’s not still a time to say what another doesn’t want to hear, but this will be a thoughtful decision made out of love. Honesty is important, but there’s more than one way that I can tell Bill I think he’s making a big mistake, assuming it’s my place to say that. It also means that we will start soliciting feedback in order to evaluate: How useful was what I said? We always want to better reflect the gospel message of truth in love.