A Pastor walked on to an elevator…  

Recently, I overheard three people talking amongst themselves in an elevator. Two of the three were speaking critically about a co-worker who allegedly was not pulling her own weight. I listened uncomfortably as these two persons unkindly disparaged the character of their colleague. The conversation took an abrupt turn when the third person in the group, who had remained silent, was asked why she was being so quiet. Her response was rather humbling: “I mean no offense but my mother taught me that if I don’t have anything nice to say about someone not to say anything at all.” Needless to say, the elevator door could not have opened soon enough.

This incident reinforced for me the understanding that the task of peacemaking is as often about what we not do and say, as well as what we do and say. Sometimes the most virtuous thing we can do is to refrain from escalating further conflict. When a person aims a derogatory comment in our direction, the best response may be for us simply to walk away. In such cases, the most powerful message we can communicate is the one that is left unspoken.

Proverbs 21:23 serves as a sober reminder for those among us who are prone to sticking shoe leather in our mouths: “Those who guard their mouths and their tongues keep themselves from calamity” (NRSV). It is also true that those who guard their tongues can prevent bad things from going to worse. Perhaps the best lesson is the one we used to sing as children: “O, be careful little tongue what you say…!”