There’s an old Arab proverb that suggests the words of the tongue should pass through three gateways before they are allowed passed the lips: 1) Is it true? 2) Is it kind? 3) Is it necessary? The Indian spiritual leader Sri Sathy Sai Baba (born in 1926) adapted the proverb by teaching, “Before you speak, think – is it necessary? Is it true? Will it hurt anyone? Will it improve on the silence?” And, my mother, along with many other mother’s, phrased it as, “If you can’t say anything nice, then don’t say anything at all.”
It seems we live in a time when it is preferable to put others down and to share words that destroy rather than build up. Every day I hear “news commentators” from the left and from the right reporting information and opinions that disparage not just the ideas or convictions of their opponents but their very humanity.
Regularly I receive e-mails forwarded by well meaning friends informing me that the world is “going to hell in a hand basket” and placing the blame on a particular person, political party, or non-American group.
I resist checking Facebook because intertwined with the beautiful pictures of my grand children and delightful posts from friends are posts that invite further division. Some of the political cartoons and distasteful jokes I hear seem only to contribute to the tension, stress, and disease we experience.
I can’t help but wonder why we pass along some of the things we do. Do we really believe by sharing them we are helping to make the world a better place, the place for which we long when we pray, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10)?
Is this the way we want others to treat us as we live the golden rule “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them,” (Matthew 7:12).
Is this what Jesus had in mind when he taught, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you….” (Matthew 5:43-44) or when he prayed to God, “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those we will believe in me through their words, that they all may be one.” (John 17 20-21)
Next time we’re tempted to add a sizzling piece of juicy gossip to the fire, or forward some scandalous information or re-tell that inappropriate joke maybe we can remember to subject our motives to these gates: Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary? Will it improve on the silence?
Let’s not squander our time or minds or reputations running down people, politicians, parties, nationalities, minority groups or each other when we’ve been rubbed the wrong way or because we disagree.
As I recall Jesus said something about turning the other cheek (Mathew 5:39) and removing the log in our own eye before we take the speck out of the eye of another (Matthew 7:3).
And long before that, God had something to say about bearing false witness (Exodus 20:16). May the prayer of Psalm 141:3, “Lord, set a guard over my mouth; keep watch over the door to my lips,” be our prayer.
Shalom, Salaam & Peace.
Don Derryberry is pastor at First United Methodist Church in Sheridan.