Andrew Watson: Before you say something, ask yourself: Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary?
We live in a time of much talk but little wisdom. With so much 'fake news', it is important to take time to listen to who matters, says the Rev Andrew Watson
PEOPLE don't like it when they think we're being too quiet.
"Smile," they say. Or, "Cheer up, it may never happen."
But there is nothing wrong with being quiet sometimes. Perhaps we are thinking, or even praying. Perhaps we have something to say and we're considering our words carefully - no bad thing.
When our kids were young we used to tell them: "Before you say something, ask yourself: Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary?"
King Solomon, in his Old Testament book of Proverbs (10:8,19), writes: "The wise in heart accept commands, but a chattering fool comes to ruin... When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise."
Eminently practical New Testament writer James (1:19-21) echoes that: "Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry."
He adds: "For man's anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent, and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you."
In the 21st century we are surrounded by many words. There is much talk but little wisdom, and we wonder over the percentage of truth.
Popular TV shows are filled with blasphemous mockery, obscene language and merciless criticism. And we wonder why society is violent and lawless, or why teachers have difficulty instilling respect among children.
As journalists, hungry for a story, bring another public figure or institution crashing down, is no-one asking whether a society can afford the damage brought about by these styles of so-called free speech?
Let us speak when we are ready, but only what is true, with as much reverence, respect, wisdom and compassion as possible
People have little faith in governments, banks, police, churches, the health service and, increasingly, news corporations.
Do editors ask themselves who will suffer most now we no longer trust charities? And who or what is there left to hold onto?
As a Christian I naturally turn to God and Jesus Christ for some kind of fixed reference in the current meltdown.
In the Gospels we find that Jesus spoke 100 per cent truth, on occasions prophetically exposing hypocrisy and corruption.
I read something interesting in the light of all the recent stories about sexual misconduct: none of Jesus' enemies were women.
Not one ever complained; they all loved him for the respect and kindness he showed, with absolute purity.
Jesus challenged corruption but he wasn't out to merely tear down. He balanced his call to repentance with a message of hope based on relentless love and forgiveness.
More, he made it possible with costly self-sacrificing action; there is our example.
So first, I suggest we be still. It is OK to be quiet and think and by all means pray about things that matter.
There is a judge before whom we all must one day stand, who assesses the words and actions of everyone impartially.
Let us speak when we are ready, but only what is true, with as much reverence, respect, wisdom and compassion as possible.
And let us match our words with positive action for real justice and charity with the kind of integrity of motive demonstrated by Jesus.
It is difficult to completely trust very many these days, but he is different - he is the 'Word' that can save us; him we can trust.
- Rev Andrew Watson is minister of the Presbyterian congregations in Dunfanaghy and Carrigart in Co Donegal and blogs at www.wordsurfers.com. He is author of Finding Our Way Home: Prayers and Reflections for Our Journey in Christ, published by Veritas and on the suggested reading list for the World Meeting of Families.