Holding my tongue (maketh me thalk lahk thith)

A brief review of the use of the word "tongue" in the book of Proverbs:

When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise.

A man who lacks judgment derides his neighbor, but a man of understanding holds his tongue.

Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent, and discerning if he holds his tongue.

He who guards his mouth and his tongue keeps himself from calamity.

I believe that a great deal of the miscommunication I have with others (general or particular) is my tendency towards a quiet nature. By no means do I submit that I am a quiet person in all circumstances. If only I could claim to carry myself with such humble grace. But in the many circumstances requiring the most personal, or the most sincere forms of honest communication, I find myself often slow to speak. I don't do this because I believe I am a wise person.

I do this because I know I am not a wise person. A friend recently asked me what one thing I would change about myself if I had the opportunity, and my answer was quick: "I would be a wiser person." I know I am not wise, because despite even my best attempts to hold my tongue, I often don't, and very often it gets me into trouble. Because of this, I've worked hard to hold my tongue, and find my feeble efforts to sometimes prove effective, generally in situations where I am already carefully considering the matters at hand - when my mind is functioning seriously and thoughtfully. Careless words don't slip so easily when you're not thinking carelessly.

Perhaps even more plenteous, however, are the circumstances wherein my very refusal to speak itself gets me into just as much trouble, if not more. In my pride, my anger, or whatever sin I happen to indulge myself in at the given moment, I very often take an attitude of self-righteousness that sees no need to verbally communicate my feelings. I feel justified in not engaging the other person in the basest and most rudimentary forms of polite communication. And I am wrong to hold my tongue. Perhaps what I would be liable to say in such situations would be wrong as well, but that becomes a moot point, given the conditions. As James said, "...but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison." I find in my case, its no less evil when I hold it - my attitude seems vehicle enough for the poison when the tongue is restrained. (1st John: "Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.")

I believe that perhaps the most numerous of the circumstances in which I forgo verbal communication are those where I simply have nothing to say. In such situations, I don't necessarily feel that I am (subjectively) either morally right or wrong to not be speaking - I don't feel its that kind of issue at all. Rather, I just don't have the words to communicate my thoughts. Often I believe its because I am uncomfortable in sharing them because I don't believe I could properly convey what is working through my head. And I find myself without anything to say.

Problems arise here because my eyes betray the fact that I am thinking something, but not sharing it. People often feel slighted, and with good reason. They very often confuse my inability to verbally communicate with other forms of quietness - the selfish attitude aforementioned, the prideful I-know-something-you-don't-know disposition, or perhaps even the don't-have-anything-good-to-say so don't-say-anything-at-all syndrome. Take your pick of these or many others - very often the person(s) with whom I would communicate are given this impression.

Whether they are justified in their impression is not the point. The point is that this third general area of quietness on my part presents me with perhaps my greatest need for personal endeavor. For in this form of quietness, rather than avoiding a sin of commission (i.e. in the prudent holding of the tongue), I commit a sin of omission, perhaps even more grave than the explicitly selfish one which I have already addressed. More Proverbs serve to elaborate:

Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.

The tongue of the wise commends knowledge, but the mouth of the fool gushes folly.

The tongue that brings healing is a tree of life, but a deceitful tongue crushes the spirit.

The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.

A truly wise tongue is one that brings healing, commends, is a tree of life, builds others up, and affirms them. I certainly can't do this when I'm not opening my mouth at all.

The trick is finding the right words, and knowing when to say them. Which seems night on impossible for the so very unwise. And we're left with naught but to rejoice in our Very Present Help:

To man belong the plans of the heart, but from the LORD comes the reply of the tongue.

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