Have you ever seen those talk shows or news programs where the hosts try to best one another with quick-witted banter and sarcastic remarks? Sometimes it feels as if no one is listening. It seems they all to want to make a point regardless of what anyone else says. After a while, it becomes exhausting.
In the book of James, it says, “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (James 1: 19 NIV throughout).
Is it not interesting that anger should play a central role when communication is concerned? In fact, going back to those TV hosts, you would think that if no one heard their point it would be the end of their existence. Yet, although those off-the-cuff comments may have come out in jest, after everything is over, they do tend to bite.
What James is saying is for us to slow things down, listen to what people have to say before we jump to conclusions with our own point of view.
Someone once said, “If your mouth is moving, you are not listening.” In a way, it is true. Carefully paying attention and giving the floor to others provides us with the opportunity to absorb a whole lot more than when we are talking.
It takes a strong will to refrain from speaking.
James also has this to say about the very instrument that will bring us either incredible happiness or absolute misery, “But no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison” (James 3:8).
And if you think James is done with his assault on the tongue, he makes it even clearer, “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be” (James 3:9-10).
The odds are against us. No matter what we do, we will not be able to win against the tongue. How many politicians have sparked an international incident because of their unruly tongues? A slip here, a slip there and the world suddenly becomes unrecognizable.
How many times have we heard someone say, “I have misspoken?” What he or she really means is, “I messed up. I put my foot in my mouth, and I should have thought before I said anything.”
If well-known figures with many years of public speaking experience can still get into trouble with their tongue, what is it to say that we, who have very little practice in lesser situations, will do any better?
That is why it is far better to listen than to speak. It is less likely that we would say something we would later regret when we are listening.