Proverbs 15:1, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”
One of the hardest principles of communication that we learned in college was that a communicator must own the response by the listener to the message. We studied cross-cultural communications and more general communications, learning to listen and understand an audience, to fashion our messages to meet the needs of a given context, and to receive back the response to the message. Receiving that response back and owning that response is crucial to dialogue.
When a communicator doesn’t own the response she says, “He just didn’t listen.” Or he says, “She’s not smart enough to understand what I’m saying.” This is a dead-end for communication. To be more personal, I’m guilty of having angrily snapped, “You’re just not listening!” We’ve all probably thrown up our hands at one time or another and exclaimed, “You’re just twisting what I said!”
It’s undeniable that there will be times my words are twisted. It’s going to happen that someone doesn’t listen. The principle we’re talking about doesn’t make me accountable for someone intentionally twisting my words, but it does remind me that I have to look at the response I receive when I communicate. The proverb above supports this principle by affirming that the message and it’s delivery can shape the response, for better or worse.
There are some assumptions about me at work in the Proverb of which I should take note: 1) I should be valuing the creation of peace between us, 2) I exercise a personal choice of how I will answer others, and 3) I know how to be gentle. If I have not valued peace, but instead focussed on defeating or dominating, then I’ve already made my choice and probably won’t even have the ability to respond in gentleness.
What do I want? Do I want to create peace, within the person with whom I speak and between us as human beings? Do I view someone as disposable and therefore not worth the effort to chose my words in a way that creates less friction between us? Have I exercised and practiced at being gentle? Have I bought into other ideas and principles that value my harshness over my gentleness? The answer is probably in the eyes of the person I last spoke with, if I’m willing to pay attention.