Monday, August 13, 2012

My Gracious Speech Checklist

A few weeks ago, I found myself in the middle of 5 or 6 very disheartening conversations, where a Christian would say something that offended somebody else, which then made the original poster say something like, "Hey, I'm just stating my opinion/speaking the truth/calling it like I see it," which then made other people jump in and add, "Yeah! Never apologize for the truth!"

But here's the deal. Even if you believe what you're saying is important truth that should be said, you will (and should) be held accountable for the *way* in which you say it. Ephesians 4:15 mentions "speaking the truth in love," a phrase that gets tossed around by a lot of Christians. Too often it refers solely to the heart intentions ("I say these hurtful things because I love you"), rather than also addressing the way they are said. Speaking the truth in love doesn't mean just speaking it BECAUSE of love - it also means speaking it in a loving way.

Here are some helpful questions I sometimes ask myself when I'm about to write/post/say something that I know might offend or hurt someone.

Do I sound like I am gloating or rejoicing over someone else's suffering?
This is pretty straightforward - that's not loving. 1 Corinthians 13:6 says "Love does not delight in evil." If anything I say sounds like I am delighting in the pain, suffering or humiliation of others, it is not loving. God's not a fan of that either. (Ezekiel 18:23.)

If someone who felt like they were failing read my post, would it discourage them further?
1 Thessalonians 5:14 tells us to "admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak." Often people gear teachings or lessons toward the unruly and admonish, admonish, admonish... and then the fainthearted hear it or read it and become extremely discouraged. I am frequently in that boat. It is disheartening to hear condemnation of my doubts and failures - and, most of the time, when I tell someone I felt that way about their post, they immediately say, "Oh, but I didn't mean YOU." That's the thing, though - when posted publicly on the Internet, you never know who's going to read it and take it to heart in a way you didn't intend.

Am I willing to be part of the solution?
If I'm willing to complain or lecture someone about it, I should be prepared to be part of the solution on a personal level. If someone comes to me and says, "I'm really struggling with what you said in your post and I need to talk to someone about it," am I prepared to offer my help? Sometimes I realize I would really rather just complain about it, and in that case, there's not much edification in saying it.

What do I hope people will say when they read this?
This is sometimes a very revealing question for me about why I'm saying what I'm saying. Sometimes I realize I want people to say, "You're right, I'm wrong." And in that case... it's probably not a productive thing to post. If I'm just seeking affirmation or "being right," my heart is not in the right place.

The response I try to write for most often these days is, "Huh. That made me think," or "That was encouraging to read." I want to write things that challenge people, not to follow my own ideologies, but to puzzle out the issues on their own. And I want to write things that are encouraging, that help them rediscover joy and love and peace in their lives.

(If I am responding to something or somebody) Have I truly listened to them? Do I understand *why* they're saying what they are saying?
My first goal in a conversation with somebody is to first understand what they are saying to me. I want to get inside their head and understand their reasoning, their experiences, their thought processes. All my responses tend to be geared around that. Even in sharing my own opinion, I share it in the hopes that they will be able to use it to articulate their own stance ("Oh, yeah, I agree with you on that" or "Oh, no, actually, I think this instead").

Too often I have been a part of discussions where people argue back and forth but NOBODY is listening to what the other side is saying. There is no attempt at understanding them, because they already have their responses ready. For me, there is nothing more likely to make me shut down in conversation than feeling like I am not being listened to. If I have to repeat my main point 3 or 4 times because you're not actually responding to it, I can assume that you're not going to actually hear anything I say and are just talking to hear yourself talk, rather than opening a dialogue.

Listen. Listen, listen, listen. This is actually probably the most important thing out of all of these.

If somebody who had never interacted with a Christian but discovered I was one read my post, what might they assume?
There are a lot of stereotypes about Christian behavior out there, and while almost everyone in the US knows several people who identify themselves as Christian, I have definitely met a few (especially from other countries) who really have never closely interacted with any. All they know are the stereotypes. If I'm not comfortable with the fact that my statement could be used as a generalization for how Christians behave everywhere, maybe I should be careful about what I'm saying.

Has my viewpoint been used to hurt people? How will those who have been hurt by this see my post?
This one is difficult, because nearly every viewpoint I can think of has been used to hurt, bully, manipulate, and abuse people. That's what people do. They take beliefs and worldviews and use them to control the people around them. So whatever I post, chances are high that someone reading it has been hurt by someone who believed what I believe.

Does this mean I shouldn't say it? No, not necessarily. But it means I need to be sensitive to that. I need to be aware that there are a lot of people out there who HAVE been hurt by the church and by those who carry out church teachings in a hateful way. If your beliefs *cannot* be said in a way that demonstrates love and compassion, you may want to reconsider what you believe.

And beyond all, if somebody who HAS been hurt by the things you say approaches you, be generous. Be gracious. Be kind. Don't negate their pain or rush to defend their attackers. Acknowledge their hurt. If you contributed in any way, apologize.

This checklist comes back around to the first question - am I rejoicing in someone's suffering? Or am I rejoicing with those who rejoice, weeping with those who weep, and seeking to present my beliefs in the most loving way to the most people?


  1. "Like apples of gold in settings of silver, so is a word spoken in right circumstances." This verse in Proverbs 25:11 is something that I often use to determine if what I want to say is necessary or profitable.

    Great post! I'm sharing it.

    1. Yeah, that's a great verse. Sometimes something is the right thing to say, we've just chosen the wrong timing. Thanks for sharing the post, Mom! :)

    2. Thank you! I have a separate good writing checklist I use.

      OK, I'm kidding about that one. But thank you for real. :)

  2. This reminds me of a blog post I recently wrote about My Blogging Philosophy ( It also reminds me of something Craig Ferguson articulated in a TV special last year, Does This Need to Be Said? He explained that he asks three questions before commenting on a topic:

    "Does this need to be said?"
    "Does this need to be said by me?"
    "Does this need to be said by me, now?"

    I found there was nothing for me to say about the recent shooting in Aurora because whatever I might have said was already being said by plenty of others. Issues like that bug me because they seem important enough to merit saying something...but I just don't see any value in throwing extraneous remarks into an already crowded cacophony.

    I really enjoy your blogging, Hannah. You and I come to things from admittedly very different perspectives, which is why I find it so interesting how often we're in agreement. I don't come here just to have my conclusions validated, though; I sincerely enjoy following along as you explain how you got to the same place as me. My own relationship with religion and spirituality is much murkier than yours, for instance. Yet rather than brace myself for eye-rolling, self-righteous lecturing, I know when I come to your writing that you've got something interesting to say. In short, you're everything that's right about faith. I admire you for that. I also admire the accessibility of your writing style; yours is a very conversational blog, easy to get into and you've got a great sense of humor to keep things getting too dry. I dig it.

    1. I remember that blog! I enjoyed it as well. And I really like this phrase in your comment: "I just don't see any value in throwing extraneous remarks into an already crowded cacophony." Sometimes I'm just bursting to say SOMETHING, but I decide my voice will just add to the chaos instead of speaking through it.

      Thank you so much for your kind comments about my blog! I'm also fascinated by how often we agree on things, even though we're coming at them from different places.