My husband says whatever he wants to say, and hurts my feelings and others’ feelings in the process. When I confront him, he says he’s just speaking the truth. In fact, he goes a step further by saying he’s proud he speaks truthfully and doesn’t “beat around the bush.” He seems arrogant …
I think far too many people err in the direction of truth versus tact. Certainly there are many who believe like your husband – that as long as you speak the truth, you can say whatever you want. Nothing could be further from the truth. Words can hurt deeply. Words cannot be erased or taken back. They are powerful.
Consider the following scenario: You’re at a family gathering. You think your sister-in-law is too brash. She is abrupt, forthright, and opinionated. You’re tempted to blurt something out such as, “Why don’t you keep your opinions to yourself?””
You pause before broadcasting your opinion about her lack of tact. You weigh out what you want to say, reflecting on how much you want to say it “because it is the truth.” You wisely consider the consequences of your possible actions. You have an inner conversation, concluding, My opinions are “inside words,” not “outside words.” You decide – wisely – that making this comment would be provocative, hurtful and would lead to immediate conflict.
The notion that it is fine to speak your mind as long as you speak the truth is not only foolish and hurtful, but is not founded in Scripture. Consider the following Scriptures:
- “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” (Colossians 4: 6)
- “Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few.” (Ephesians 5: 2)
- “Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.” (Ephesians 4: 15)
Who of us has not been hurt by a careless word, or worse, by someone who hides behind ‘speaking the truth,’ with little awareness of the damage they are doing with their tongue? As the Apostle James aptly tells us, the tongue is like a spark that sets a forest ablaze. (James 3: 6)
What, then do we do about someone intent on speaking the truth, when clearly there is no love present? How do we not snap back and become guilty of the very thing we are concerned about? Here are a few ideas:
Gently confront the person. It has been said ‘We teach people how to treat us.’ As such, we need to let people know when they offend us. They cannot read our minds and often times are insensitive to the fact that what they have said is hurtful. We must let them know, gently, that their words are hurtful. We must look them straight in the eye, and with the power of conviction, share our feelings—NOT any judgment.
Give specific feedback. Again, your feedback is not useful to the offending person unless it is specific. Share clearly that their words hurt and even how their words hurt. Share the full gamut of your feelings. Perhaps even share some personal information, such as “I am sensitive about my weight and your comments really hurt my feelings. You have crossed a personal, emotional boundary and I am very hurt by your blunt words.”
Ask for what you need. Be clear with your boundaries, indicating that in the future you expect the person to keep their thoughts to themselves. You might also let them know that if they do not take responsibility for their words and offer a sincere apology, your relationship with them is considered broken. You may pull away from the person and certainly would choose not to share certain thoughts or feelings with them in the future.
Refuse to defend or debate with the offending person. You dare not engage with the offending person. You don’t need to defend more than you’d like about why your feelings were hurt. You certainly should not engage in the ‘rights and wrongs’ of speaking the truth. You will not win that battle. Keep your feedback simple and clear.
In summary, there are ‘inside words and outside words.’ There are thoughts, opinions and even feelings we are to keep to ourselves. When we share our thoughts and feelings with others, we must follow Biblical principles—always speaking the truth in love. I’d like to hear your thoughts and welcome reactions by contacting me at firstname.lastname@example.org.