We’ve all heard, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” I think there are appropriate times to vent to appropriate people when we need to let go of some of the negative things we feel or think. There will always be someone in your life whose very existence seems to anger you, unless you’re a much nicer person than I am. I admit, there are a few people whose purpose in life appears to be to make me cranky, but I try to limit the number of people who know who those people are. I don’t really do a bang-up job with that, and it’s an area I really need to work on.
I’ve been developing a habit to combat my cranky side. I rarely say negative things directly to the person that sparked my ire, so I don’t have to work hard to avoid saying mean things directly to people. I have focused more on making sure I say the positive things out loud. A lot of times we think that someone looks nice or did a good job with a project, but we don’t tell them. A while ago, I decided that I would try to speak those thoughts in the moment instead of waiting or never saying anything at all. It’s actually a really fun experiment.
If you have ever worked in retail or customer service, you know that the majority of customers will be unremarkable, a small faction will ruin your day, and an even smaller faction will make your day. It seems to be part of the human condition to commit the mean things people say to memory while the compliments fade. We should help each other to counteract the meanness; we should be the remarkable people who make other people’s days. Think of how great you feel when someone offers you a sincere compliment. I don’t know about you, but I get warm fuzzies and recall that comment through the day. Many of you have made my day with small things you’ve said, and I treasure those warm fuzzies in my heart when I’m having a hard time. Imagine if you could speak that kind of life into everyone around you.
We all can, and it’s very simple. If you’re not ready to delve into emotions and deeper thoughts, start small. Tell the lady next to you that you like her dress; tell the person at the drive-through window that they have a nice voice or were very polite; tell someone they have a great smile. I don’t know anyone with a bad smile – do you? The more I practice finding things I like about people, the less I find to dislike about them. The more I speak those things out loud, the less I have time to complain. The more I practice complimenting the small things, the more I am able to voice the real reasons that I love the people around me. It is unbelievably healing in tough times to hear people say simply, “I love you.” You will feel terribly awkward telling someone that you love them if you don’t build up to it, even if you do love them. There are dozens of movie and television scenes where the guy fights to say, “I luh. I luh ooh. I luh…..v you.” We have all had those moments – maybe not in romantic relationships – but we’ve all probably been through the awkward “I love you” with someone.
Maybe we’re awkward because we’re not very demonstrative emotionally. I think everybody has a tell, though, and the more you speak love into the lives of the people around you, the more able you are to speak to individual hearts in ways they can appreciate. Not everyone likes to be hugged; not everyone likes touchy-feely compliments. But we all like to know that someone appreciates us, either for the work we’ve done or just for being us. If you are a people person like me, people will talk to you more and in greater depth if you are positive (and if you listen – listening is still a required skill 😉 ). Positive people are much more relatable than negative people. Positive people tend to attract more positive people. Maybe you don’t care if people don’t talk to you or see you as positive, but there is one great reason to have people who like to talk to you: you have people you can talk to when you need help. It’s self-preservation.
The reason I said that it’s a fun experiment to try to speak out all of the compliments you may think but normally not say is that it’s great fun to watch someone’s face light up because you took a tiny moment to say something nice. I bet that if you try it for a day, you’ll be hooked. It is really lovely to know that you have the power to make people smile. Conversely, you have the power to hurt if you use your words thoughtlessly or intentionally meanly.
Jesus tells us in Luke 6:45: “The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.” This is one of the hardest things for me to obey, and I don’t think I’ve ever had a day that I didn’t feel God telling me, “See – that’s what’s in your heart because you just said it.” We’ve all had words we wanted to take back because of the damage they did, and they gave voice to something horrible we had stored up in our hearts, making that evil visible to us and the world at large. I am appalled at myself on a regular basis based on what comes out of my mouth. I really want my mouth to have nothing mean to say ever again. I know my heart will never be pure enough this side of heaven for that to be reality, but God gives me grace so that I can try.
We can try together to speak life. The body of Christ is called to encourage one another, so we really should be harbingers of life to each other. Another, more radical, way to look at it is the choice between life or death. A pretty good bit of Deuteronomy is dedicated to God spelling out that the Israelites had a simple choice every day: life or death. Obedience to God meant life and unimaginable blessings; disobedience meant death and destruction and unimaginable curses. I love the wording in Deuteronomy 30:11-20 because God tells them that the choice is very simple and well within the reach of their knowledge. Our words and the choice we make in how to use them is equally simple: life or death. Speak the good things in your heart and spread life and blessings; speak the evil things in your heart and spread death and curses. Do you think death is too strong an image for our words? Think of the power that bullies have and the destruction they leave in their wake. Think of the existence of verbal abuse. Choose to speak life instead.