The other day I posted a little rant about my frustration when people don’t plan. In the conversation that developed out of that Liz and I got to talking about being able to see when people are about to make some kind of mistake and when it’s appropriate to say something or not.
That is a whole big issue. When do you speak up? When is it none of your business?
These are tough questions with no single “right” answers. And for sure there are no easy answers. Me, I tend to be opinionated and outspoken. My track record includes an obnoxious streak so I try to be more careful these days and weigh out whether I should speak up or not.
Often it is a tough decision. Let me give you an example.
I had a roommate once. He was a really nice guy, grew up in the church. He was in his mid 20’s and volunteered helping out with the youth group at his church. I noticed there was one girl that he seemed to spend a lot of time with.
Now I didn’t grow up in church. I’ve been out there in the world and seen some stuff, if you know what I mean. I’ve learned a little about people. And I saw a potential problem developing for my roommate and his friend.
She was under 18 and to my perspective they seemed to be spending maybe too much time together. But who am I to judge, right? Besides I knew my track record (borderline obnoxious, hey?).
Well it bothered me enough that I went to two separate friends of mine I trusted and asked them discretely for advice. Both of them independently recommended that I not say anything. They said that I didn’t really know him all that well and maybe I was misreading the situation. He might not take to kindly to my view of things and it might ruin our friendship. Well, knowing who I am I decided to go against my own instincts and kept my piece.
You know what happened.
After I moved out of the house (actually I moved completely out of the state). She ended up getting pregnant and they got married. Now before you get all outraged at him remember he really is a nice guy who genuinely wants to do right by folks. He was however just as naive as she was. Should he have known better? Sure.
If that was where it ended, then all’s well, right? Well unfortunately their marriage didn’t last. I don’t know any of the details other than there were some more children involved before it was over. So now we have several lives that are more complicated than they needed to be.
Hindsight is 20/20 and I should have said something. I regret not speaking up. The whole thing was a powerful lesson to me on the importance of giving advice and I am now more inclined to speak up even when what I say may not be received well. And even when I might be totally wrong and misreading the situation entirely. I guess I’d rather look like a boob than see someone else get hurt.
Here’s a couple nuggets from Proverbs on the issue:
Wounds from a friend are better than many kisses from an enemy.
The heartfelt counsel of a friend is as sweet as perfume and incense.
But there are definitely times when it is better to keep your peace. Some lessons are best learned by experience. Some of our relationships are just plain not close enough for it to be appropriate for us to speak up.
So here are some things to think about that might help you through this dilemma.
- How well you know the person versus how serious the issue at hand is. You can think of it as an equation or a scale. On one side put your relationship with the person, how well you know them, the likelihood you can speak to them about a tough subject without them misinterpreting your intentions. On the other side weigh out how serious the issue is. It truly is often better not to sweat the small stuff. If it is no big deal, then shut up!
- What are the implications and possible consequences of not speaking up? Think through what might happen. What’s the worst case? The best case? How many people might be affected?
- Is there a lesson that the person probably won’t learn without making the mistake at hand? As much as I prefer to learn from the mistakes of others, the reality is I learn best and fastest from my own mistakes. That’s just the way we’re wired
- Has the mistake already been made, or is there still time to avoid it. This may seem common sense to most folks. But there are some out there who feel it is their job to point out every single mistake people have made. Telling someone “you just screwed up” is a whole other deal from warning them that they might be about to make a mistake. More often than not, when people blow it, they know it. They probably don’t need you to pick that scab for them.
The bottom line is all our actions have consequences. That principle applies both to us and to them. We face consequences whether we speak up or stay quiet. They face consequences for whatever choices they make, good or bad.
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