Whenever I am asked to speak at a church service, meeting, funeral, or other event, I always plan ahead and take certain measures to ensure that my words are well received. I think about the audience and what I know about them as a group. I try to craft my speech so that it is interesting, valuable, and entertaining to them. I consider their education and/or experience and shoot for a level of understanding that is comfortable to all of them. I practice my speech in front of a mirror, and most importantly, I pray about it.
Whenever I am faced with a difficult conversation, I try to follow these same rules. I consider my audience and the value they will get from my message. If absolutely no good can come from my comments, I try to keep them to myself, no matter how difficult that may be… and trust me, at times it has been nearly impossible.
After many years of keeping my mouth shut when I didn’t agree with something someone said or did, several years ago I made a new year’s resolution that I would speak up when I felt I needed to do so, and I am proud to say that I have kept that resolution to the best of my ability. Unfortunately, knowing when to say something and when to not, is a delicate science. There are the obvious answers, like a husband shouldn’t tell his wife when her dress makes her butt look big, but girlfriends should tell girlfriends when their husbands are cheating (no matter what the consequences). But then there’s the not so obvious… like should or shouldn’t I tell my neighbor that I saw her teenage daughter buying an early pregnancy test at Walgreens?
Sometimes, however, there’s no time to prepare or think or decide what is best. I find myself in a position where my gut instinct tells me I have to speak up without notice, to defend a friend, clarify a misunderstanding, stop an injustice, whatever the case. And sometimes, even when there is time to prepare, all the planning in the world does not make my sermon in church or my talk with a close friend (or my blog entry for that matter) successful, especially if it’s a message the receiver doesn’t want to hear. Sometimes, nerves on my part interfere, and on the flip side of that, sometimes emotion and resistance on the part of the listener get in the way.
In the meantime, I’m finding out that it takes almost as much effort and practice to be a good listener as it does to be the speaker. I have to consider the person who is talking and what I know about him or her. Is he or she a good person? Do they appear to be well intentioned? Is it even remotely possible that what they are sharing is true?
Twice recently I have been hurt by the responses I’ve received when I spoke up about things I believed needed to be addressed. Once I spoke to a group, the other time to an individual. The hardest thing to stomach in both cases was that my audiences were people who knew me well, and I would have thought (at least I have always hoped) that people who know me well, know what kind of person I am and that I do have the best intentions. In the case of the group, it was difficult that people who had expressed privately the same opinions I shared publicly did not support me when I spoke them aloud. In the case of the individual, it was disheartening that this person overlooked my sincerity, and shut me out without a moment’s hesitation.
Have no fear! These two experiences will not stop me from speaking up in the future. I will continue to stand up for what I believe in, defend the people who need defending, and right the wrongs I can right if at all possible. I can only hope that no matter how the message is received in that instant, the listener will eventually find some value or lesson in what I am sharing.