(image obtained from Wikepedia.org – Meet The Parents)
The 2000 comedy Meet the Parents relates an account of a sequence of unfortunate incidents that happen to a kind-hearted but careless nurse (Ben Stiller as Greg Focker) when he is visiting his girlfriend’s parents (Robert De Niro as Jack Byrnes and Blythe Danner as Dina Byrnes).
Take a look at this scene (obtained from Movieclips.com c/o YouTube) revolving around an encounter between Greg (Ben Stiller) and Jack (Robert De Niro)
Have you ever told a lie so much that you forget that it’s a lie? There’s this one lie I told so many times that eventually it felt like it was really true. Whenever that particular situation arose, the lie reeled off my tongue so smoothly that I completely forgot that it was a lie. Of course, in my own eyes, such a lie was justified. Telling the truth would result in feelings getting hurt, especially since the person in question was close to me. I certainly didn’t want that on my conscience. I’ll have you know that I carefully contemplated the issue and weighed the options on the scales of justice. Do I be truthful and create ill-feelings or should I just flat out lie? I’ll take lying for $1,000 Alex!
I know, I know…lying is a sin. I need no reminder of that fact. If your upbringing bore any semblance to mine, you would have been constantly reminded as a child that lying lips are an abomination unto the Lord. But for me, telling the truth has its fair share of difficulties. How so you ask? Well, that friend of yours who has bad breath…do you just flatly tell her that her breath smells like a garbage truck, and she badly needs Listerine? What do you tell your ‘no cooking skills’ cousin who so graciously and constantly invites you over for dinner, and always asks for your feedback on the food? How does my friend answer his wife who constantly asks him if she looks fat, knowing full well she has gained a few pounds?
Get the point?
I remember how much I laughed when a good friend of mine told me how he got in trouble with his parents for telling the truth. His family had received an invitation for dinner and when the hostess asked him how the food was, his honest reply was that it tasted like dog food. Oh, I laughed so hard, I got a cramp in my side. The image of my friend actually eating the meal with a look of disgust on his face didn’t help the situation either. After managing to pick myself from the floor, I seriously had to ask him why he was scolded and punished for telling the truth. Wasn’t that what our parents taught us as children? Doesn’t God tell us to be truthful? Yes He does, but my friend’s parents’ point was that in situations where someone has to be confronted about the truth of a particular issue or circumstance, it has to be accompanied by two words:
THE FIRST WORD IS LOVE.
But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ...Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. - Ephesians 4:15,29
The apostle Paul wrote these comments in the context of encouraging others to grow in their faith. The goal of speaking the truth in love was to become more like Jesus and to build up the church in love. However, as a matter of principle, it is also saying that our words should be helpful for building people up. If someone perceives your words as destructive, there will be resistance to it, even if it’s the truth. On the other hand, if someone thinks you have their best interest at heart, there will be a greater reception to the truth. That’s when truth is effectual…when love is attached to it.
THE SECOND WORD IS TACT
Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person - Colossians 4:6
Our communication should be seasoned with piety or grace in the same manner that we season our meal with salt. It makes it more nutritious and tastier. So it is with the conversations we have. If it is not permeated with grace, it is flat, dull, unprofitable, and harmful. The pious attitude will transform it into what it should be: helpful, pleasant, and useful to people. This does not imply that our discussions should always be strictly religious, any more than our food should be just salt; rather, whatever the topic, grace should be spread throughout it – just as the salt in our food should properly season it all – regardless of what type of food.
Tact (gracious speech) therefore is an essential skill in both building and maintaining relationships. It enables us to communicate our thoughts and feelings in a respectful and effective manner, which greatly reduces the risk of conflicts and misunderstandings. Tactful communication empowers us to express ourselves without offending others, while also allowing us to listen to and respond to others’ opinions in a way that is respectful, constructive, and confident.
My friend had to learn the hard way that you can’t just blurt out what’s on one’s mind, even if it’s true. You really do have to think before you speak. Truth often takes tactfulness, which translates to thinking about what to say, how to say it and how it will be received.
And you wonder why I said, telling the truth can be hard sometimes! See, I wasn’t lying!