Ah, February 14th. One of my favorite days for obvious reasons. I get to celebrate my affection and appreciation for those I love. I was recently reminded of a life lesson that I think is especially appropriate to share today. I learned this lesson nearly 30 years ago as a missionary in Germany. I do not remember who shared it with me, but I have never forgotten it. I now want to document it on my blog, for me, for others and particularly for my posterity.
Is it true?
Is it necessary?
Is it nice?
These three questions constitute an excellent litmus for deciding whether we should share an opinion or thoughts with someone we know or love and even whether we should share something we think about someone with someone else.
First, is it true?
You might think, well this is obvious, but how often do we learn information or form opinions that most-likely aren't true or at least aren't entirely true. I'll speak for myself, it's pretty often. So, the first step is to seek out and share only that which is truly true! Keep in mind that what is true to you may not be true generally. The assumptions we make in reaching truth, might belong to us exclusively. We make assumptions based on personal experience and via the culture and circumstances in which we live and thrive. There are times when something feels entirely true to me because of what I know and because of where I've been, but I cannot assume that what I know to be true is in fact true for someone else. If what you know cannot be established outside of yourself, then don't pass it on.
Second, is it necessary?
What does that even mean? I believe it means that we must ask ourselves whether the information or opinion we have is essential or required for the other person's well-being or benefit. I realize this is still a subjective question, but how charitable it would be if we would pause and really think about whether what we want to say is absolutely essential for that person to move forward in either a safe or confident way. If the answer is no, then stop. End of discussion. Even as parents, with more experience in life, opposition and consequences, there is information of the non-dangerous sort that we don't need to share, because the personal experience and self-worth of our children is so much more valuable in the long run.
Is it nice?
And finally, my favorite. Is it nice? Is what you have to say or share nice? Will it build someone up, help them feel loved, unique, cherished or grateful? If the answer isn't a resounding yes, then simply keep it to yourself. There is far too much in this world that is hateful and discouraging to risk well-intentioned or "helpful" advice or opinions that might sting. This is especially true if the person in question hasn't asked for your input. If they will be surprised by your opinion or potentially hurt in any way, please, please keep it to yourself. I love that nice is the final question, because it is so clear. It is quite easy to convince ourselves that what we believe is true and even beneficial to someone else, but we all have enough practice in giving and receiving offense that we know absolutely when something isn't nice. So even when your best intentions pass both true and necessary, nice will stop anything questionable and spare a bruised relationship.
Now, what to do when someone you love has shared in an unmeasured way—when they have for whatever reason pushed past the warning signs and opened their mouth anyway. The next step is both easy and extremely difficult ...
Simply let it go. Life is too short to not patch up wounds, big and little and move forward with a generous heart. Because we are human, we all make the mistake of careless comments. We all say things that we can very quickly regret, so to best aid the recipient, we should immediately or as quickly as possible, ask for their forgiveness. Forgiveness is so much easier to extend when it has been requested. A sincere apology does wonders.
You can safely assume that I have not always followed this counsel, on either side of the equation. I have gossiped and intentionally and unintentionally criticized those that I love, and I often nurse sensitivities and wounds much longer than I should. The goal is to learn from these mistakes and then more readily remember this true, necessary and nice process. I'll keep trying. I'd love to read your thoughts!
Happy Valentine's Day.