The Key to Reconciliation: Guarding our Words
Read Proverbs 15:1 and Eph 4:29
"A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger."
The powder keg of conflict is often lit with angry words. What we say and how we say it can either defuse a conflict or escalate a conflict. When we are angry, our terms become harsh, spiteful, and aggressive. We blame and accuse. We criticize and belittle. When disputes arise, the focus quickly changes from our actions to our words. One of the most significant lies we say is, "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me." The reality is that often words do far more destructive, long-term damage than any stick or stone.
In Proverbs 15:1, the sage wisely reminds us of our words and how we say them can either bring healing to relationships or further fracture them. In the second part of the verse, he points to the power of words to inflict pain. The term "harsh" is a strong word that speaks of bitter, sharp words that inflict harm upon the recipients. These are words that are spoken to cause mental anguish upon the recipient. When conflicts arise, words become the weapons we use to defeat and demoralize our enemy. The result is that the conflict further escalates. The words "stirs up" refer to arousing or exciting feelings and passions that increase the other's anger. Words, more than anything else, fuel the flames of conflict. Paul refers to these kinds of words as "unwholesome." They are words that cause further injury and hurt.
In contrast to the harsh words, the wise person responds with a different language. Instead of verbal attacks, the wise person responds with gentle words. Instead of critical, demeaning words, these words are tender and kind. They defuse rather than escalate. They literally cause the other to retrace a course.
In Ephesians 4:29, Paul further highlights the type of language we are to use when he states that we to speak that which brings edification and grace. The word "edify" comes from the word "house or building." Thus these kinds of words serve to bring something closer to fullness or completion. In other words, it not only builds the other person up, but it also strengthens the relationship as well. Furthermore, they are appropriate to the moment, and they communicate grace. Grace is critical in restoring relationships, for it involves overlooking others' faults and wrongs and treating them as if the offense was never made. Instead of being offended, we willingly overlook the offense.
The essential element of any conflict that will escalate or defuse is the words we say. Instead of criticizing the other person, seek to encourage them. Instead of pointing out their faults and failures, compliment them. But perhaps the best words to say, the words that are the most effective in defusing conflict, are the simple words, "I am sorry, would you forgive me." If you have a broken relationship with someone, there is no better place to start. And then the next words to say are, "I forgive you."