- Friday, July 25, 2003
Looking back on my 20s I could imagine the long-term ramifications of changes like studying harder, eating healthier or even coming up with better lines around women. But if I could go back and only change one thing, it would be this: I would look for more opportunities to shut up. I would try to capture thousands of stupid, insensitive, coarse, vain and unhelpful comments that I let fly out of my mouth over the years. That one change, I'm convinced, would affect the remainder of my life the most.
But the sad reality is that all those words I launched into the world, my gossip, my boasts, my tasteless jokes, my poorly formed opinions and much more are irretrievable. As a result, my reputation among those who knew me during my 20s bears the scars and bruises inflicted by my careless tongue.
As a preacher's kid, I should have known better. It's not like I had never seen the numerous warnings throughout the Bible encouraging tongue control. I remember from my dad's sermons that James had some of the Bible's best commentary on the tongue, starting early in his letter when he says, "If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless" (James 1:26).
It's toward the middle of James' letter, however, that we get a sense of how powerful and dangerous an unbridled tongue can be:
When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell. All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man, but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison (James 3:3-8).
If one little body part can do so much damage, then it seems obvious that any efforts to get established, to reach maturity or especially to emerge as a leader during your 20s are incomplete without a committed effort to rein in your tongue.
One great way to observe and begin changing your speaking habits is to take "The Great Tongue Test." In four days it can dramatically help you talk less, ask more questions, stop gossiping and speak more constructively, all habits that increase maturity and nourish your soul.
Here's the rundown:
DAY ONE: SILENCE
I think one reason I chattered as much as I did was because I always dreaded that awkward silence that set in when conversation ran out. What I realize now is that the silence I dreaded was rarely as awkward as the noise I replaced it with.
The wisest man ever said, "Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent, and discerning if he holds his tongue" (Proverbs 17:28). Too often in the past, I removed all doubt about where I stood on the foolish-wise continuum by vocalizing everything that crossed my mind.
A temptation for many of us is to sell ourselves to others primarily through our words, we prefer to impress by telling instead of showing. But how often do we over promise with our words then under perform with our actions? As Ben Franklin observed, "Well done is better than well said."
We could all benefit from speaking a whole lot less. So here's the challenge for day one: See how little you can say in 24 hours. Dry out from talking. Give your tongue muscles and vocal cords a break.
In every situation, ask yourself, "Will what I say make a difference?"
DAY TWO: ASKING QUESTIONS
Once your silence test is over and you're ready to use some words again, try this: Just ask questions.
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