The words you say and when you say them

One of my new favorite movies is “The Pianist.” It’s a 2002 Holocaust film which depicts the true story of a Jewish pianist in Nazi occupied Poland. Near the end of the film (spoilers) a German officer lets him hide in an empty attic and regularly supplies him with food. Part of the genius of the movie is how the glimpses of humanity juxtapose with the overwhelming inhumanity of the war.

But if you are going to tell someone about the movie, there is a sloppy way you can do so that may make you seem like a Nazi sympathizer, and I have it on very good information that very few people would like to be seen as such. This way deals less with what you say and more with when you say it. For example, if that someone is telling you of the atrocities of the Nazi’s in WWII. If you respond with, “that’s true, but you do know that there was an officer who cared for a Jewish pianist,” you would be factually correct, but probably misunderstood. The timing of your fact would likely, in the mind of your listener, be put forward to refute the fact that they just said. They would likely-and understandably- think that you are trying to convince them that the Nazi’s are not as bad as people say they are.

But wait a day or two, don’t connect your statement with the previous one and you can say what you want to say and more importantly, you can avoid saying what you don’t want to.

It would be easy to multiply examples of this principle, especially as it pertains to our political discourse. But I think the deeper issue is grounded in a failure to live up to the command to love your neighbor as yourself. If someone tells you a story that causes them pain, it is not just wisdom but obligation that commands that we feel their pain. (Romans 12:15) Think of when someone brushed past your pain to get to their point. It is easy to tell when someone doesn’t care about what you have to say, when someone is not listening, when someone is just waiting to make their point. And if you can tell, they can too.

So let’s be people of the truth, having the courage to correct one-sided versions of events. But we cannot forget that statistics and stories carry real pain, and when we ignore that pain we are not obeying Jesus. So make sure the facts on the ground are correct, but let wisdom dictate when you correct those facts.

I love the NASB translation of Proverbs 25:11

“Like apples of gold in settings of silver
Is a word spoken in right circumstances.”

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