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Catholic Faith Corner

Living in the Light
of Jesus Christ

When to Bite Your Tongue

The other day someone went ahead of me in a line. I thought of saying to her, “What am I? Invisible?” Fortunately these words went no farther than my brain. Maybe she didn’t realize I was next. Maybe she was in a hurry. Voicing my sarcastic words would have damaged our relationship. This incident prompted me to write this post. Coincidentally on Facebook this morning I read the advice, “If you can’t figure out how to be kind, at least figure out how to be quiet.”

St. James in his epistle has some scathing words about the tongue. (See chapter 3.) He compares the tongue to a fire. He calls it “a world of iniquity” and “a restless evil, full of deadly poison.” Wow! He acknowledges that we use it to praise God, but then points out that with it we curse those made in the likeness of God.

So what are some times to control our tongue?

When I see someone doing something the wrong way, I want to fix it. (I could give examples, but in the off chance that the persons involved would read this, I will not!) Unless what I consider “the wrong way” is seriously hurting others, I must bite my tongue. I tell myself, “It’s none of your business” and “no big deal.” Deciding whether to speak or not may be difficult. In some cases we have to rely on the Holy Spirit to activate the virtue of prudence in us.

The other day I was telling a funny story and when I got to the punchline, someone chimed in and said it before I could. That let the air out of my balloon. It reminded me not to do that to other people.

Similarly, when someone recounts an event, I may think of something that tops that. It takes self-control to hold my tongue and let that person shine.

If you are like me, you like to tell others news. It’s satisfying. Some news is better kept under wraps, especially news that can be classified as gossip. It’s tempting to pass on bad news about someone we don’t like. It helps to think, “What if someone said that about me? How would I feel?”

In the course of an argument we may be tempted to say something hurtful to the other person. A folktale compares words to feathers shaken out of a feather pillow and blown about by the wind. You can never gather them again.

Sometimes you might things of a clever thing to say that others might not appreciate. Better then to keep it to yourself. I remember when a Sister told us that a doctor had given her a shot of novocaine in her head. I responded, “Oh, that made you a numbskull.” That remark got me in hot water.

We also must be careful in offering criticism. It may not always be welcome. One Sister refused to sing. It seems that decades before a music teacher had told her she couldn’t sing.

St. James also recommends being “quick to listen, slow to speak.” Some people have verbal diarrhea. Long ago I was in a group where one person dominated the conversation. At one point she said to me, “You’re very quiet today.” The fact was that I could not get a word in edgewise. (But I didn’t say that to her!)

Another unpleasant thing a tongue might do is complain. Complaining brings everyone’s spirits down. It also tends to make listeners add their own complaints. Soon everyone is unhappy and peace is destroyed.

Along the same line is being negative. After a concert someone might comment, “Wasn’t that a delightful performance?” We can refrain from saying, “Yes, but the tuba didn’t come in on time,” or “The violinist’s hair was a mess!”

There are other faults our tongue may have: flattery, exaggeration, bragging, lying, and cursing.

Of all creatures, we are the only ones who are given the gift of speech. It’s meant to be used for good.

• When were you glad that you bit your tongue?

• When have you been hurt by someone’s words?

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