Sometimes, the most powerful answer is silence … or kindness

Patricia Holbrook

Patricia Holbrook

I scrolled down her phone to read the string of ugly messages received. From insults to Bible verses, the communication chain made me angrier by the second. Self-righteousness, hypocrisy, anger, misinterpretation — each bubble in the chat window showed someone very different from the person I thought I knew. On the other side of the table, my friend looked at me, puzzled, trying to make sense of it all.

“Did I say something wrong?” she asked.

“Nope. You answered a question and asked for more information before making a decision,” I said. “You did nothing to deserve this.”

“What should I say?” she asked.

I paused before speaking and said a silent prayer. My blood was boiling and several ugly answers certainly ran through my mind.

Had this happened years ago, I would have dictated a very eloquent and poignant answer. “Take that!” would be the message in between the lines.

“Nothing,” I said. “You should say nothing.”

If you could draw the scene as a cartoon, you would see a little angel holding a harp on my right shoulder and a little devil on the left, whispering all the words I should say to counterattack.

The little devil did not win that day.

There are few things that make me more upset than injustice. I was 9 years old when I got in trouble at school because some kids were harassing a boy in my grade, and I took matters into my own hands to defend him. Growing up, my dad always suggested that I should follow his steps and become an attorney, so great was my hunger for justice. Therefore, when injustice affects someone I love, mama bear threatens to take over and my flesh screams, inviting me to make someone else’s fight my own.

However, as I grow older and wisdom establishes deeper roots in my heart, I have learned the incommensurate value and power of silence and kindness. The fighter in me has become tamer, choosing to replace harsh and impulsive words that cannot be taken back, with prayer and silence.

“The one who has knowledge uses words with restraint, and whoever has understanding is even-tempered. Even fools are thought wise if they keep silent, and discerning if they hold their tongues.” King Solomon – in Proverbs

The great King Solomon filled the book of Proverbs with verses about the importance of prudence in speech. I am certain that much of his wisdom was inspired by a lifetime surrounded by 300 concubines and 700 wives! I don’t mean to put down my own sex, but truth be told, in general, women are worse than men when it comes to holding their tongues. It’s an innate trait that gets us in trouble more often than we care to admit.

The wisdom behind Solomon’s words is louder than any counterargument one could formulate. Indeed, when people verbally attack us, they have usually already made up their mind regarding the subject. Whether what they say is true or false, there is probably nothing you and I can do to change their minds. Therefore, when it comes to unjust attacks or veiled insults, the question becomes one and only: “Will we stoop to their level, scream louder and uglier, or will we respond with silence and kindness?”

It depends on what we wish to accomplish.

At some point, we must decide whether being right is more important than being kind, and whether any given argument is worth losing our testimony. Kindness toward our attackers does not mean weakness on our part. Silence as an answer to those who accuse us does not mean we believe they are right. Rather, kindness or silence as an answer simply means that we are wise enough to grasp this truth: A harsh, impulsive word is usually followed by regret. On the other hand, we don’t ever have to explain the things we do not say.