The Courier

Howard RittenhouseWe’ve all received criticism.  Some of it constructive (PDRs, advice from our supervisors, teachers, parents) and some of it not so constructive.  Some of it, no doubt, downright galling.  Not easy to take, is it?  And, I don’t know about you, but when I’ve objected to such criticism, the response is often, “Just being honest.”

The difference between honesty and blunt criticism is tact, between being forthright and self-righteous, love.  The book of James advises us to be slow to speak (James 1:19), and it’s good advice – some of us shoot off our mouths before we’ve loaded our brains!  We speak before we’ve really considered how what we’re about to say so glibly or ‘honestly,’ or under the influence of anger, jealousy, wounded pride (or certain, shall we say, beverages?), will actually be heard.  Once spoken, words take on a life of their own.  They continue to penetrate, deeper than .50 slug, wounding and wounding and wounding.

The old saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me,” is absolute rot!  I’d bet a year’s supply of Tim Horton’s that almost every one of us can recall a particularly nasty remark, an especially hurtful comment, a rather-too-blunt observation.  And no matter how long ago, we still remember and it still hurts.

My wife and I have a friend who was married to the biggest jerk I’ve ever known (I could be more blunt, but in the spirit of what I’m writing….)  At my sister’s wedding he made a comment about his wife.  This was a long time ago (I won’t give you the date, but it wasn’t so long after the Canadiens last won the Stanley Cup), and I still remember the remark, so it was fairly egregious (nice word, eh?  Use it twelve times today and you’ll never forget it).  Under the influence, we later learned, of various substances, he said, in the full hearing of a whole table of our friends, “Doesn’t —– look good tonight?  Usually, she looks like a pig farmer’s daughter.”  Jerk.

It’s so easy, isn’t it?  Off-the-cuff remarks, snide asides, ill-thought-out comments.  We’ve all fallen into the trap of a too hasty tongue, and later regretted it (hopefully).

However, some claim that what they said to their spouse, employer, child, parent, or to a perfect-stranger-who’s-supremely-ticked-me-off-and-I-just-let-them-have-it-because-what-kind-of-congential-idiot-doesn’t-notice-the-light’s-turned-green was justified.  The jet-at-take-off volume, throbbing forehead vein, wild arm gestures, or choice vocabulary might give the opposite impression.

Think about what you say and how you say it before you say it.  You may just save yourself not only embarrassment but the knowledge that you’ve deeply wounded someone as you yourself were once wounded.  Once said, words can’t be recalled.

Now, I need to go delete some emails and texts.

howard.rittenhouse@forces.gc.ca

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