“Remember not only to say the right thing in the right place, but far more difficult still, to leave unsaid the wrong thing a tempting moment.” ~ Benjamin Franklin
I sometimes think I’m kind of funny. In fact, I’ve long thought my wit was one of my more attractive qualities. I can make a quick, snappy comeback to most situations and usually elicit some laughter. I hate fighting and contention, but I love clever banter. In fact, I often use humor as a way to diffuse a potentially volatile environment. This will make sense to any Austen fans out there, but one of the reasons I love Elizabeth Bennett in Pride and Prejudice is her gift for smart and funny conversation, like the time when she and Jane are both lamenting her single status right after Jane and Mr. Bingley became engaged:
Jane Bennet: Oh, Lizzie, if I could but see you happy. If there were such another man for you.
Elizabeth Bennet: Perhaps Mr. Collins has a cousin.
I love that kind of laughing away an awkward situation. There’s obviously a place for humor:
“Find happiness in ordinary things, and keep your sense of humor.” ~ President Boyd K. Packer
“There is certainly no defence against adverse fortune which is, on the whole, so effectual as an habitual sense of humor.”~ Thomas Wentworth Storrow Higginson, quoted by President James E. Faust
However, in the last couple weeks my “humor” has made a couple of bad situations worse. My attempts to make a witty comment left some people offended, and upon reflection, in both cases I realize they thought I was making light of their struggle. So, I’ve been eating a little humble pie because it was not my intention to hurt anyone’s feelings, and it stinks. It’s no fun to realize that your “strength,” if not moderated, can be a weakness. I reread this talk today: “Our Strengths Can Become Our Downfall” by Elder Dallin H. Oaks, and this is what stood out to me:
“… Our weaknesses are not the only areas where we are vulnerable. Satan can also attack us where we think we are strong–in the very areas where we are proud of our strengths. He will approach us through the greatest talents and spiritual gifts we possess. If we are not wary, Satan can cause our spiritual downfall by corrupting us through our strengths as well as by exploiting our weaknesses. . . .
“How, then, do we prevent our strengths from becoming our downfall? The quality we must cultivate is humility. Humility is the great protector. Humility is the antidote against pride. Humility is the catalyst for all learning, especially spiritual things. . .
A person who engages in self-congratulation over a supposed strength has lost the protection of humility and is vulnerable to Satan’s using that strength to produce his or her downfall. In contrast, if we are humble and teachable, hearkening to the commandments of God, the counsel of his leaders, and the promptings of his spirit, we can be guided. We can be guided in how to use our spiritual gifts, our accomplishments, and all of our other strengths for righteousness. And we can be guided in how to avoid Satan’s efforts to use our strengths to cause our downfall.”
So then I started thinking, How can I use more humility in my conversations? Do I maybe try to be funny and unconsciously seek praise and admiration from my listeners? And do I do that at the cost of other people’s feelings in a group, or do my witticisms unknowingly push some of them out of the conversation? Please know that this isn’t a plea for validation from anyone who knows me. I’m not trying to be overly self-critical; I’m just trying to be really thoughtful about the way I use words. And I know this is getting really long, so sorry, but I’m not done learning yet. Yesterday on the local Christian radio station, the host said,
“Did you know that failure is fertilizer for spiritual growth?”
And if making a lady up-and-leave a PTO meeting because of one of my “jokes” isn’t a failure, then I don’t know what is. So I’m really hoping I grow from it. Here are a few things I’ve learned so far:
1. I heard this a long time ago, but didn’t really pay much attention at the time. But it’s something to the effect of measuring what you say by the following questions: Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary? I’m beginning to realize I need to think through those things more often before I speak, not after.
2. I always remember this conference talk and the gentle reminder:
“Do you remember the story of Bambi, the little deer, and all of his friends in the forest? If you do, you will remember that one of Bambi’s good friends was a rabbit named Thumper. Thumper was about your age. He was a neat rabbit, but he had one problem. He kept saying bad things about people. One day Bambi was in the forest learning to walk, and he fell down. Thumper just couldn’t resist the temptation. “He doesn’t walk very good, does he?” Thumper blurted out. His mother felt very bad and said, “What did your father tell you this morning?” And then Thumper, looking down at his feet and kind of shifting his weight, said, “If you can’t say somethin’ nice, don’t say nothin’ at all.” That’s a good piece of advice that all of us need to follow.” ~ Elder Cree-L Crawford
3. I also remembered a column I really liked from Annie about this lesson of kindness in our words. I’ve never considered myself a “gossip,” but I painfully recognized a tiny bit of myself in some of the things she said.
4. And lastly, (see? I can eventually stop) I’m reminded of this phrase from the “Language” section of For the Strength of Youth:
How you speak says much about who you are. Clean and intelligent language is evidence of a bright and wholesome mind. Use language that uplifts, encourages, and compliments others. Do not insult others or put them down, even in joking. Speak kindly and positively about others so you can fulfill the Lord’s commandment to love one another. When you use good language, you invite the Spirit to be with you.
So, my new strategy is to hold my tongue a little bit while I figure out the most appropriate ways to use humor in conversation. Because, seriously?, isn’t humor really meant to make people feel good?
Sitting around in the fertilizer for a while might stink, but I think something good will grow out of it.