Exchanges can get so heated so quickly that sometimes we don't even remember what was said, or how the conversation came off the rails. The enemy loves this because it makes it more difficult to remedy the situation.
We typically like to blame the other person, regardless of where the blame actually lies. But we should always approach such situations with the understanding that we hold the key to peace and war. While you cannot make the other person live at peace with you, you always determine whether you draw a verbal sword or glass of water. What if, upon hearing a volatile question or statement, you were to take inventory of your next words?
We have become masters at sarcasm, wit, and one-ups-manship. We have conquered the art of the cut-down. We've watched enough reality TV and stand-up comics to know how to deliver a zinger and leave the other person reeling. Unfortunately, the other party has also been trained in the art of verbal war. So as we turn to walk away from them writhing in our blast, they volley another round into our back. It is a sad and painful process when everyone comes to conversations expecting a fight to break out.
But what if, instead of trying to hammer them with a hard word, we respond in a way that diffuses what could otherwise be a volatile situation? The writer of Proverbs in the Bible tells us...
"A gentle answer turns away anger, but a harsh word stirs up wrath." (Proverbs 15:1)
This is a universally experienced truth. I'm sure you have seen this in your own life. Whether you are the one asking the question that could lead to a difficult conversation, or you have been asked the question, we all know that a person's words, and how they deliver them are important.
Sometimes a person asks a question or makes a statement in order to get an explosive response. They are looking for a fight. But other times, questions and statements are just that. Sometimes we over-analyze or assume ourselves into a fight. The question from a parent to a teenager, "Where have you been?" can be received as accusatory or inquisitive. The response of the teen will often determine the next season of the relationship.
I believe the proverb refers to the second person in the conversation. But I also believe it can be referring to the original speaker. How we say things, and how we respond to things said is so important in the keeping of the peace. The proverb recognizes great power in our speech.
Your words have directional power. Like a river flowing through a land, words carve out the ground, changing the direction of lives as well as conversations. Anger and peace are in the charged air. They are easily ignited by the wrong or proper response. A few choice words can take you to a place neither person wants to go, or they can take you to a wonderful place of peace no one expected. Your words often challenge the same response to flow from the other person.
Words are the seed. Actions are the harvest. Gentle words produce a harvest of peace. Harsh words produce a harvest of wrath. This is often true even with those who actually intended to cause a problem by asking an inflammatory question. Regardless of the response of the other person, it is on you to respond with words that turn away wrath. You may think it makes you look weak, but in the end, 95% of people will think it makes you look brilliant.
Today you get to choose your answers. You will come to that pause in the conversation. During that pause... think. If you are quick to the verbal holster, I would encourage you to take 10 seconds to think about your response in a charged conversation... 10 seconds. In those 10 seconds you can think about the future your words will deliver. It has been said, "If you have to think twice about what you are going to say, you probably shouldn't say it." That won't always hold true, but it is a pretty good guide. Whether you are the one initiating a difficult conversation, or the one responding to another, understand you hold the keys to peace and war. No pressure.
[Bible quotes are from the Holman Christian Standard Bible, unless otherwise noted.]
Find more of David’s work at Heart Of Ministry.