Someone said a lie can run halfway around the world before truth can get its pants on. In a conflict when one side puts their version out there, sometimes even a good defense can make things worse. It can give the impression there are just “three sides to every story baby—his side, her side, and the cold hard truth” (Don Henley). Instead, silence can do something a snarky tweet cannot.
Staying quiet can feel like you’re giving enemy propaganda a free pass. It can seem as though someone is spray-painting graffiti on your house while you just watch from the front porch. But it only feels that way. In some situations, using your words only comes out as more graffiti.
Many years ago a friend found himself in the crossfire of a conflict he neither started nor had any role in. Pressure mounted to take a side. One colleague warned: “Watch out. People in the middle of the road get run over both ways.”
Silent, but not passive
The threat grew weightier. Staff members feared for their livelihoods. One day my friend cautioned his wife: “I’m going to not say some things, and that could put me out of work.” She said, “So be it.” Boom. (Mic-drop sound effect.)
If you think I am presenting a picture of their exemplary virtue, then you have missed the point. Not doing something was a painful, often begrudging process. Frankly, they were stuck without any good options. They stumbled through a graduate-level course on the human condition.
The following “mantra” emerged during this time:
- Relationships, not politics.
- Create healthy space.
- Respond well.
They soon discovered a principle that emerges when you reverse the order: responding well…creates healthy space…for relationships to flourish.
Sometimes Jesus turned over tables, drew lines, and called people out. He never turned the other cheek to ignore brokenness or avoid conflict. He simply understood when a battle could not be won by force.
Three Practical Tips
Develop your counsel of many. It is important to have people in your life who will be loyal to the truth (not just loyal to you) when you seek their counsel. That means they won’t just sympathize and assume you’re doing everything right, cursing the other party. You need people in your life who have permission to be honest with you.
Remember who the enemy is. The dividing line of good and evil runs through the human heart. Self-righteous creates huge blind spots. Remember you have the same condition even when your symptoms are under control. “We have seen the enemy and the enemy is us.”
Forgive early and often. When you face injustice, sometimes the truth does not emerge in time to prevent serious consequences. You must commit right away to leaving bitterness behind. Many of us have people “taking up space in their minds rent free.” Forgiveness is the only way to escort them to the door.
After losing his family and spending years under the thumb of the Third Reich in Nazi Germany, Victor Frankl said,
“The one thing you can’t take away from me is the way I choose to respond to what you do to me. The last of one’s freedoms is to choose one’s attitude in any given circumstance.”
Obviously, within social media and the potential for something to go viral, speaking up for yourself immediately can be crucial in the face of false accusation. But when it comes to interpersonal relationships, eventually the stink can be traced back to the skunk. As Shakespeare said, “The truth will out.”
“To everything there is a season…a time to speak and a time to be silent and a time to speak.” Ecclesiastes 3:7