Don’t be too eager to hit "Send"
I had this blog entry in my “drafts” folder for over six months and it’s been quite some time since I posted an entry for the “Stuff I’ve had to learn“ category. Today I would like to remedy this situation by presenting a piece of wisdom that I’ve been forced to learn over the years.
This bit of advice has certainly resolved many tense situations and has saved more than one friendship:
Don’t be too eager to hit…
Communication today is certainly quicker than it was in the past. It is now extremely easy to fire off a quick message to someone on the other side of the world, whereas in times past it required the purchase of stationery equipment, the composition of a letter, the purchase of the appropriate stamp and delivery to the nearest postbox. A substantial wait was then required before a reply would be received.
I’m all in favour of modern communication methods – cell phones, skype, email and text messaging make communicating with those in far-flung places both efficient and cheap. For me personally, it’s what makes living in America and staying in close contact with friends in England possible. However, I would suggest that our advances in technology sometimes make communication just a little bit *too* easy…
The problem comes in that it is very easy to send someone a text, email or message in a moment of anger or hurt. A knee-jerk reaction to something someone has said or done and a relationship can be destroyed just by hitting “send”…and once something has been written and sent, it can’t be un-written or un-sent. There is a permanence to written communication. A hurtful message can be read over and over again, pouring fresh salt over the wound.
Another problem with these new ways of communicating is that they can give us a false sense of safety. On the road, people will honk their horns and shout at other drivers from the perceived security of their own car. This sense of safety also applies in cyberspace. On the Internet, people are far braver than normal, and with bravery also often comes bluntness and rudeness. You don’t have to spend much time in a chat room or forum before you come across this. People become far more direct and rude than they ever would be if they were talking face-to-face.
There is a danger to words that the Bible clearly recognizes. In the Old Testament, the book of Proverbs has much to say about the human tongue:
“Sin is not ended by multiplying words, but the prudent hold their tongues…”
– Proverbs 10:19
“The tongue of the wise adorns knowledge, but the mouth of the fool gushes folly…”
– Proverbs 15:2
“The soothing tongue is a tree of life, but a perverse tongue crushes the spirit…”
– Proverbs 15:4
“Even fools are thought wise if they keep silent, and discerning if they hold their tongues… ”
– Proverbs 17:28
This pattern of thought is picked up in the New Testament particularly by St. James’ Epistle:
“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
St. James later goes on to present different imagery to try and express the power of the tongue, describing it as the small rudder which controls a large ship and as a tiny spark which can set a great forest ablaze. Both of these books of the Bible underscore the havoc that words can wreak. They should not be used lightly, particularly when these words can be delivered at speed with modern means of communication.
At the beginning of this entry, I alluded that I have had to learn this piece of advice through bitter experience. I now have a policy that when I receive a toxic email from someone or a message which concerns an extremely delicate subject, I try to wait a while (preferably 24 hours) until I write a response. This gives me time to cool down, think clearly and be constructive. I also have a couple of friends who I will sometimes ask to check my responses to try and make sure that pride and hurt haven’t unnecessarily leaked into my response.
Unfortunately, a little while ago, I broke my own rule and it was to my own cost. A friend did something related to subject about which I am particularly sensitive. It touched a nerve. I didn’t wait. I didn’t give myself time to cool down. I didn’t run my words past anyone else. I snapped back and said stuff I wish I hadn’t.
Our friendship hasn’t been the same since.