Common wisdom, usually attributed to a universal “Mom” figure, suggests that if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. Which is an excellent piece of advice. It’s so good, I wish more people would take it seriously and say nothing whatsoever. The world would certainly (and sadly) be a quieter place. But here’s the thing: if, in response to Mom’s wisdom, you find yourself saying nothing a great deal of the time, then maybe it’s time to worry less about saying nothing and start pondering why it is that you have nothing to say.
I get it. There are traits in other people that drive others bonkers. Simply thinking about them is enough to still even the kindest tongue. Still, not all folks call for the silent treatment all the time. Most folks are pretty decent, to say the least, and require little effort to talk about whilst still honouring Mom. But if you manage to find little that’s nice, or good, or helpful, or kind, or even totally loving to say about someone, or many someones, then maybe it’s time to think about why. Why is it you can’t find something nice to say about others? Why is it that another adage, “Silence is golden” is your go-to choice when it comes to your friends, pew-neighbour or the new family that just moved in across the street?
James, one of the Bible’s letter writers, talks about the human tongue this way: “(it) runs wild, a wanton killer” (The Message). Strong but often true words. What we say can hurt others, which is why Mom suggests that we keep quiet at times. But the tongue is not an independent operator. It is driven by our minds and our souls. What we say, whether good or bad, reflects our own hearts and how we think about the world. The tongue only speaks the truth as we feel and know it.
Jesus doesn’t mince words either. Jesus tells us quite bluntly, “Let me give you a new command: Love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another. This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples—when they see the love you have for each other.” Love one another. It’s an order, not a suggestion. And if we follow Jesus’ order truly and faithfully, then we should be talking about others very freely because we will have only nice, or good, or helpful, or kind, or even totally loving things to say about someone, or many someones. If we take Jesus’ words seriously, silence becomes a missed opportunity rather than a golden moment.
To love others as we are loved totally transforms how we understand our friends, pew-neighbours or even the new family that just moved in across the street. Such love takes us to the core of how God sees and knows us, showing us as beloved, desired children worthy of praise and support rather than tearing down or keeping silent about. It’s not the easiest path, to be sure, but it’s the one that will free us to say things about others that reflect how God loves each and every one of us.