Let every man be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to make angry.

James 1:19 (paraphrase)

A gentle answer turns away wrath, but harsh words stir up anger.

Proverbs 15:1 (paraphrase)

What do you do in a world where everyone wants to be offended? It does not really matter what you say, if it is not what they want to hear, then what you said was offensive. People seem to have developed a tendency to read everything in a bad light.

You say, “Have a good day!” They say, “Oh, yeah, you must be being sarcastic because how could anyone dare to actually wish someone a good day!” Yes, I am being a bit sarcastic here myself, but I am trying to make a point. How can you handle the stress of knowing that anything and everything you say will be taken the wrong way?

Wait!

Are those the right questions? No, I think I started this wrong. It is not about how to handle other people’s reactions or issues; it is about how to handle mine! What does the Bible tell me about how to react to other people? Let’s see.

James 1:19 says, “Let every man be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to make angry.” (paraphrase) Proverbs 15:1 says, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but harsh words stir up anger.” (paraphrase)

Both of these verses tell me that I need to be a good listener and a quiet talker. When I need to speak, it needs to be with kindness and much thought. That reminds me of a book I once read.

Elizabeth George, in her book A Woman After God’s Own Heart, mentions that to succeed in a relationship, one should always answer with a positive response first. For example, if the other person says, “Hey, let’s go to town”, you respond with “Sounds like a good idea.” Then if you have doubts, you address them. If your first response is positive, the other person is more likely to hear what you have to say.

Now, I know this really works because I have tried the experiment in my own home, and I can testify to the results. Our relationship may not be perfect but, for the most part, it is peaceful.

But what happens when I have to deal with other people, those who may not be so easy to get along with? Well, we all know them and have them in our lives.

These are the people who really know how to get under your skin with their opinions. The ones who are very controlling, even of other people. Those who absolutely have to be right and then those who must have the last word if it kills them. (Facebook seems to abound with the last two types.)

If you stoop to arguing, fighting, or trying to assert your opinion, you run the risk of making them angry, not to mention wearing yourself out, wasting your precious time, or adding stress to your already overwhelming life.

What secret superpower have I discovered when dealing with others? I call it “The Power of Okay.” This is the power to answer with the word “okay” and then proceed on in doing what it is that I need to do. Saying “okay” does not mean that I am agreeing with what they say or saying that I am going to do it. Saying “okay” means that I am acknowledging what they are saying and affirming their feelings on the matter. 

When someone thinks they know what is best for you, if you argue with them, you just cause all kinds of problems between the two of you, as well as possibly creating hard feelings and anger. Just saying “okay” helps both of you be able to walk away from the conversation feeling good.

This goes back to the “answer first with a positive answer” idea that I described above. “Okay” is your positive affirmation that you heard the person and that you are acknowledging what they have to say. It makes life more peaceful for you and certainly less stressful.

I would definitely call “okay” a gentle answer and it gives me a chance to be slow to speak. Saying okay gives me time (a moment, an hour, or longer) to digest what the other person asks of me, told me to do, or even angered me about. It gives me a chance to respond appropriately later.

It is important in this world of offenses to check our own hearts and attitudes. Do we have to speak this second? Do we need to get the last word? Is what we have to say so right that we must say it regardless of how it may be taken by others?

I challenge you this next week to follow the instructions of James and “be quick to listen and slow to speak.” Respond positively to those around you and be slow to answer them back. When you do answer them, remember Proverbs and speak gently.

Resources:

George, ElizabethA Woman After God’s Own Heart. Harvest House Publishers, 1997.