Managing the Small but Terrible

A young man once approached the philosopher Socrates and asked, “Can you please teach me the gift of oratory?” He then spoke a continuous stream of words to show his ability. Socrates finally placed his hand over his mouth and said, “Young man, I will have to charge you a double fee.” He asked why. Socrates replied, “I will have to teach you two arts –how to hold your tongue, and the other is how to use it.”

In Socrates’ time, the art of oration was a great influencer of minds. Essentially, Socrates was telling the young man that to be a great orator, a great influencer of his time, he has to learn to manage his tongue. Why?

1. The tongue has the power to destroy lives.

How can a small, tender mass of muscle tear down people’s lives? According to King Solomon, a Bible character known for his great wisdom, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.” Buddha, also, has a similar thought on this: “The tongue like a sharp knife… Kills without drawing blood.” Confucius also teaches that, “He who has a sharp tongue cuts own throat.”

What dreadful sayings about this seemingly harmless little thing, but it would be wise of us to ponder on the wisdom behind the lines for indeed life has been a witness to its destructive power, and many of its impacts have been perpetuated in time.
The power of the tongue lies in the words it unleashes. Hurting, harsh, careless words can warp and even destroy someone’s reality.

A story is told about three religious leaders who, one day, got together in a boat to fish.  Out of the blue, one of the leaders suggested, “You know what, while we are here together, let’s help each other unburden ourselves from the loads we carry.” Then he added, “Let’s share what area in our lives we struggle the most so that we can pray for each other.”  He started it out by saying, “I hate to admit this, but I have a problem with gambling.”  The second leader followed suit and said, “I’m ashamed to reveal this, but I have a problem with lust. I always find myself going into porn websites and even visiting strip clubs.” The third religious leader was quietly listening. For quite some time, he was silent as if meditating. The other two became impatient and declared they will not leave him until he tells them his greatest weakness. After a while he stood up and reluctantly said, “Alright, my greatest sin is gossiping. I just can’t control my tongue. Right now, I can’t wait to get off this boat!”

Just imagine the havoc this uncontrolled tongue could create in the lives of these revered personalities, and how it will affect their reputation for many years to come or even the rest of their lives. As a Bible passage says: Loose lips sink ships! Like a small spark that can set a great forest on fire, so can the tongue…. It’s a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things.”

We have witnessed these so many times taking place in real life:

– A kid who never went back to school after being called a moron by his teacher.
– Emotionally-hurt children of parents divorced by the constant exchange of harsh words.
– People who gave up on life because they were told they were not good enough.

If we were to record the number of careless and hurting words this terrible thing has hurled into the world they would probably outnumber the sands of the sea. Just think of them today flying through the air via the satellite, hurting people and even destroying lives. That’s how more dreadful this little tongue has become in our digital age. It has done and is doing even more damage to others than any other parts of the human body.

2. The tongue has the power to direct lives.

The course of ships, even those gargantuan in size, is completely controlled by a small rudder. Captains keep their ships in the direction they would want them go through this small, seemingly insignificant part of the vessel. Our tongue is like that. If we don’t like the current direction our life is taking, we can change its course by changing the way we talk. In other words, we shape our words and then our words shape us.

Horses are incredibly powerful animals. But amazingly, they can be controlled by a small metallic device called the bit. It is connected to a bridle through which an expert rider controls the pace and direction of the horse. Likewise, a little “bit” of a careless word can bring your or another person’s life into the wrong path.

Harsh, critical, bitter, and untruthful words are damaging and can tear down or fatally wound someone’s life. On the other hand, positive, encouraging, and inspiring words build up and empower. They can redirect one’s life for the better.

Our words can either empower people and make them want to press on or discourage them and cause them to give up. If we are experts in controlling our tongue, we have the direction of our life right in our hands. Every day, we are shaping our reality and someone else’s by the words that we use.

Here’s a real story of a mother who once struggled with her son’s punctuality:

Almost every day he would be late for school. But one day in his school’s moving up ceremony, his name was called as the most punctual – to his and his mother’s great surprise. He went up the stage to receive the award in a daze. Later on, his mother found out that his son’s teacher made a mistake, but the school decided not to recall the award. That wrong announcement that her son was the most punctual in class, changed the course of her son’s life. From then on he tried his best to live up to that recognition. He’s now a professional whose character is marked by his punctuality.

3. The tongue showcases our character.

“Stick your tongue out.” Several years ago in the absence of modern x-rays and ultrasound, doctors would look at their patients’ tongues in order to diagnose their internal health. But even with the advent of modern medicine, research has proven that this practice is, in a way, reliable. In the same manner, what’s hidden in our hearts comes out through our tongue. What you talk about, and how you express yourself through words showcase the real condition of your heart – your real character.

“A man is hidden behind his tongue.” — Imam Baqir

A person with a harsh tongue has an angry heart. A person with a negative tongue has a fearful heart. A person with an overactive tongue has an unsettled heart. A person with a boasting tongue has an insecure heart. A person with a filthy tongue has an impure heart. A person who is critical all the time has a bitter heart. On the other hand, a person who is always encouraging has a happy heart. A person who speaks gently has a loving heart. A person who speaks truthfully has an honest heart.

What’s in our heart will come out through what we say and how we say it. A spring does not flow with salt water one instance and then in another, with fresh water. The natural law is: What comes out of the well is what is inside of it.” A Bible passage quotes Jesus as saying, “For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.” If we have a problem with our tongue, it’s much more serious that we think: We have a heart problem.

How do we manage something so powerful as the tongue? We have conquered distance, maximized time, and even controlled nature, but until now, we still struggle with the taming of our tongue.

The tongue has a strategic location in the human anatomy. It resides within the slippery cavity of our mouth where it is well-guarded internally by columns of molars and incisors and externally, by a pair of lips that can effectively seal in words. Physically, we have the capacity to control and guard our tongue well. Emotionally, we also have the capacity to do the same. How we control our tongue depends on our ability to manage our emotions and that’s why our emotional intelligence (EI) plays a critical role in the management of our tongue. A weakness in the areas of emotional self-awareness, accurate self-assessment, self-control and conscientiousness will make us subservient to our tongue. Developing these EI competencies will cause us to be conscious of the impact of our words on our listeners and will enable us to master this terrible thing.

“A long tongue shortens friendships.” — anonymous

Here are specific things we can do to keep our tongue in check:

1. Fill our mind with good things.

As a saying goes, “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” What goes into our mind, goes into our heart, and what goes into our heart, comes out of our mouth.

“Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” (Bible passage)

2. Ask for help.

We may need a professional life coach or a spiritual mentor. If we’ve tried several times to change and yet still fail, we may already need extra help. Let someone walk alongside us to help us dig out inner truths of our self and to keep watch over our tongue.

3. Think before we speak.

We have to engage our mind before we put our mouth in gear. In other words, let’s THINK first before we speak:

T – is it Truthful?
H – is it Helpful?
I – is it Inspiring?
N – is it Necessary?
K – is it Kind?

“Think twice before you speak once.” — anonymous

The other parts of our body can be replaced but we will all die with the same tongue we were born with. If we cannot manage it, it will control us the rest of our lives. The Scottish people have a proverb for this: “Keep your tongue a prisoner and your body will go free”

Do you feel like you need someone to walk alongside you in this area of your life? Do it with an expert. Contact us today.

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