Sometimes be a little deaf

deaf-2In every good marriage, it helps sometimes to be a little deaf. I have followed that advice assiduously, and not only at home through 56 years of a marital partnership nonpareil. I have employed it as well in every workplace, including the Supreme Court. When a thoughtless or unkind word is spoken, best tune out. Reacting in anger or annoyance will not advance one’s ability to persuade.   Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg [This excerpt from Ginsburg’s new book My Own Words appeared in a New York Times article.]

Your spouse, friend, colleague, or total stranger makes a silly, unnecessary, provocative, or dubious statement. It may be, at best, trivial, inaccurate, vague, or unfair; at worst, it’s tacky, wrong, even hurtful.

When is it okay to just let verbal flatulence slowly dissipate without addressing it, and when is response compulsory?

As Ginsburg advises, sometimes no response is the best response.

Put yourself on the other side of these hypothetical conversations. How often do you say something that you later regret saying? When you say things that should have remained unsaid, aren’t you appreciative when someone offers you conversational grace?

Granted, there are times when unwholesome words should be addressed, particularly if someone is a repeat offender. Chronic verbal abuse is inexcusable and should not go unchallenged.

So the question is: when should you ignore and when should you respond?

In the coming days, exercise the “Ginsburg-restraint.” It is a tool we all need in our relational toolbox.

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12 thoughts on “Sometimes be a little deaf

  1. I love this simple truth, Don. It reminds me of two verses that seem to contradict, until you remember that answering (or not) is a matter of wisdom:

    Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you yourself will be just like him.
    Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes.
    —Prov. 26:4-5

    • Wayne, those two verses underscore the two options that must be considered when some foolish statements are made. And you’re right, it takes wisdom to know which of those two options are best at the time.

  2. Don,
    You are so right. Another thought, receive comments from your spouse in the best possible light. That is, that you love your spouse and that they would never try to intentionally hurt you. It’s possible that they are passing along a “hurt” within them. Or, in my case, I probably didn’t hear them correctly, or I added my interpretations to complete my spouse’s comment. When I add interpretations, it can be positive or have the effect of tossing a hand grenade into the conversation. That has never worked for me. And, you are right, it will usually blow over!

    • Randy, thanks for sharing good thoughts. Communication is a key to healthy relationships and something we need to continually work on. Don

  3. Today’s message struck me as being profoundly simple and profoundly true. By God’s grace I plan for this to become a serious part of my thinking. Thanks for sharing. Your notes are always appreciated.
    Wayne Stiles’ comment is most fitting to your thoughts.

  4. Well, Don…I almost feel guilty as charged. I am glad you quoted Ginsberg before naming the author. Perfect example of the tendency to measure the value of a statement/idea by the source, rather than by the merits of the statement/idea itself. Most prevalent in American politics and the evangelical community (that’s me). Ruth Bader Ginsberg is not my favorite source of Godly insight, and I would tend to “dis” anything coming out of her mouth…and I would miss this nugget of valuable advice.

    Ravi Zacharias (he IS one of my favorite sources of Godly insight) made the following statement which prompted my prayer that follows. I think it aligns closely to Ginsberg’s advice:

    “If truth is not undergirded by love, it makes the possessor of that truth obnoxious and the truth repulsive.” Ravi Zacharius

    Dear God…Drill that into my heart and head. Seal my lips until they have been baptized in Your love. Deprive me of any passion for truth until the passion is undergirded by love. Make me an attractive instrument of truth, not obnoxious…and the Truth a magnet, not repulsive.

    Not exactly on point to your article…but close.

    • Thanks, Neil, for being transparent and sharing insightful ideas. I love the Ravi quote. I’ve discovered that all truth is God’s truth, regardless of the source. Don

  5. The circumstances in which the foolish comment is made may colour your decision to answer or not. Remember the adage,”It only takes a good man to stay silent, for evil to prevail.” In these days of more extreme views being considered acceptable, not challenging a statement can mean that you agree with it by default and the silence of others in the same group can legitimise that extreme view. Also if the statement is downright untrue and you know the truth behind it, it may be better to wait until you can speak to the individual on their own rather than publicly humiliate the person concerned. Just because a comment is foolish doesn’t mean it is harmless.

    • Angela, you make a good case for speaking out against injustice, unfairness and other intolerable positions. I agree. Don

  6. This article made me think about a guy who was totally rude to a CVS associate I saw today. My immediate reaction was to side with the associate. Put myself in her shoes rather than his. I’m not sure what led to his rude rant but maybe those who are a little deaf to verbal flatulence see someone they done want to be in their offenders. Thanks Donn.

    • Thanks, Tristan, for sharing good insight, particularly about not wanting to see ourselves in the misbehavior of others. Don