I reviewed Adam Smyer’s You Can Keep That To Yourself yesterday. He make’s this interesting observation at the beginning of the book:
I will tell you what not to say, but I will not tell you what not to think. Think whatever you like.
THOUGHTS are the things on the In side of your head. They are invisible. Your thoughts are yours. No one else’s. No one else wants them.
WORDS are the things that exit your hole to the Out side of your head, where we are. They are a lot like thoughts, except that we can hear them. We don’t want most of those, either. You can keep them.Adam Smyer, You Can Keep That to Yourself, p. 9.
Smyer’s book is about the insensitive things “well-intentioned people of pallor” say to Black people. But there is a principle here that is worth considering in all situations: you don’t have to say everything you think.
This is a principle I’ve called to mind again and again during the past election season. Whenever I’ve failed to observe it online, I’ve ended up responding to those who disagreed with me, wasting too much of my one precious life. How liberating it was to realize that I didn’t have to respond to an objectionable comment. I could respond in my head and hit mental “send” and let it go.
There are so many times when I’ve wished I could stuff words back into thought-land. Unfortunately, you can’t. All you can do is clean up the mess.
I personally wonder why people feel compelled to disagree on matters of taste. If you don’t like butter pecan ice cream, you really don’t need to rain on my parade. Why not just share your own favorite, like cookies ‘n cream–or whatever!
I like how the New Living Translation renders Proverbs 10:19:
Too much talk leads to sin. Be sensible and keep your mouth shut.
There are times, though, when we do need to speak. It’s one thing to think about what not to say. What tests may we apply to discern what we should say? There is a test developed by Herbert J. Taylor and introduced to the Chicago Rotary Club that was eventually adopted by the Rotary International and called the Four Way Test for these four questions:
1. Is it the TRUTH?
2. Is it FAIR to all Concerned?
3. Will it build GOODWILL and BETTER FRIENDSHIPS?
4. Will it be BENEFICIAL to all concerned?
Imagine applying this to work conversations, our marriages, and everything we post online. Imagine if we could get all our politicians to pledge to this simple test and keep everything that doesn’t meet the test in thought land.
I suspect using this test, if nothing else, will incline us to say less. Sometimes, by pausing and using this test I find my initial thought was wrong and not what I really think, or would say. If I am not sure in some situations how to answer, it can help. After all, should I say what I’m thinking when I’m not sure of the answers to the questions of the Four Way Test? Probably not.
Just remember. You don’t have to say everything you think. Less is more.