It was a seemingly insignificant moment.
I noticed a dish that I thought my darling husband may have left out and asked him if it was dirty or clean.
It was dirty, he told me, but he would wash it before he went to bed.
As I had an early morning the next day, that worked for me.
Except that the next morning when I woke up the dish was still there. In the midst of watching the big game, it had been forgotten. I knew in the grand scheme of things it didn’t matter, yet it did. At least to me.
As I thought about how to express my frustration so as to frame it in the best way possible, the thought crossed my mine that rarely did my husband have to plan similar discussions with me. And while the temptation was to think that this was because my track record was perfect, it didn’t take me long to realize that was probably not the case. My memory, like most people’s, is faulty. Surely there were times that I had agreed to do something and then forgotten to do it. The reason I couldn’t recall a history of my husband initiating similar conversations was more due to his graciousness than my diligence. More often than not, he chooses to overlook my errors and knowing him, when I am forgetful, he probably does whatever thing I neglected to do without making a peep. He doesn’t require “a good reason” for my lack of mindfulness; he opts to issue me grace. While I may be inclined to wonder how he could quickly forget the dirty dish, I should instead be gratefully wondering why he is so quick to forget my mistakes.
In our sinfulness it is easy to notice the missteps and errors of others. However, we are less aware of the kindness and sacrifice that others extend to us. May we strive to reverse this tendency. And may we follow the example of my husband and become quick to forget.
President Teddy Roosevelt was famous for saying “Speak softly, but carry a big stick.”
The Bible leaves out the part about the big stick, but does state that “A soft answer turns away wrath” (Proverbs 15:1a). Since it seems that most people indicate that they dislike conflict, one would think that this truism would be heeded more often. Perhaps the reason that it is not is because we are unsure what a “soft answer” is. Does it mean that we need to keep our opinions to ourselves and only state niceties? After all, the Bible also states that it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense (Prov. 19:11). Or perhaps it means that we are to give compliments to those we are frustrated with and by doing so “heap burning coals” on our enemy’s head (Prov. 25:22). While it is assuredly a good thing to both overlook an offense and to say kind things to those who wrong us, there are some circumstances where the continuance and growth of a relationship seem to require that we let someone else know what is bothering us. In this case, how can we ensure that our response can be classified as “soft?”
One way to answer this question is to look at the definition of the words that we use. The word soft can be defined as “having a pleasing quality involving a subtle effect or contrast rather than sharp definition.” A “soft” answer then won’t draw rigid distinctions but instead will please the other by extending grace. When we respond softly it doesn’t mean that we continue unheard; it means that our response considers the other person and their perspective in shaping our communication efforts.
Perhaps the easiest way to illustrate this is to look at an example. For instance, can you hear the difference between telling someone “I didn’t feel like my time was respected” versus stating “You were disrespectful of my time.”? Not only is the second one full of more intense accusation but by using the word “disrespect” it indicts the other’s motives. Both sentences seemingly communicate the same thing, however the first can be more easily classified as a “soft” answer because it indicates a “subtle” contrast rather than a sharp, and perhaps aggressive, distinction.
What is shown in the example above has practical implications for a variety of circumstances in our lives. Our relationships with our spouse, children, friends and other loved ones will benefit from soft answers that diffuse, rather than incite, wrath. However, doing so requires a deliberation and mindfulness to our words that we are usually not quick to employ. Our emotions tend to get the best of us and instead of being “slow to speak” we are quick to voice our opinions. Speaking softly then not only requires that we are purposeful with how we say things, it requires that we take time to think through the implications of our words before we speak. In doing so, our words are more likely to be pleasing to the other and to turn away the wrath that we otherwise might face.