My Mother died when she was only 51. Sometimes it feels like yesterday and sometimes it feels like forever ago. Just last night, right before I went to sleep, I felt a sudden pain in my chest and a familiar panic: Mum is not here anymore; I won’t see her in this life again. It happens to me sometimes like that. Although, I always have this indescribable ache, sometimes the pain hits me like a tonne of bricks and it’s hard to breathe. When this happens, I think about some of the things my Mum taught me; she taught me to be careful with the words I spoke. I think this verse sums up the damage words can do:
“It takes strong winds to move a large sailing ship, but the captain uses only a small rudder to make it go in any direction. Our tongues are small too, and yet they brag about big things. It takes only a spark to start a forest fire! The tongue is like a spark.” James 3: 4-6b.
My Mother taught me to be careful with what came out of my mouth by giving me strategies to put into practice. I don’t always get it right though. I’ve hurt others with my words many times, unintentionally or otherwise. As I seek to be a positive example for my children and in-turn, teach them to use self-control over their words, I am passing on my Mother’s wisdom. It goes like this:
The idea is to put your words through these three gates before you speak: Is it kind? Is it necessary? Is it true?
This gate can be tricky. You see, sometimes kindness is not always niceness and niceness isn’t always kindness. Kindness can mean these things: helpful, agreeable, merciful, considerate and compassionate. I think the word that represents this gate is — helpful. Are the words going to be helpful to the person hearing them? Will it build them up? Is it constructive? There are times when helpful words are hard to hear.
Necessity arises from an essential need. Does the person need to hear what you have to say? Is it essential?
Has the fact been verified? That is, not gossip or hearsay.
If the words don’t pass the three gate questions, then bite your lip hard and Hold it!
If the answers to the three gate questions are dubious, take time to think about what you want to say before you decide to Say it! or Hold it!
If your words pass all three questions, then feel free to Say it!
I love picturing the three gates in my mind’s eye. This pictorial lesson of using self-control with what I say, has stayed with me — closely. I don’t use the Three Gates method all the time in everyday conversation, although it does sit at the back of my mind. If I have a tricky situation and am unsure whether to speak or not, the Three Gates method is useful. It has proved to be sound advice from Mother-mine. Remembering her advice helps me feel, for a moment, that she is still here with me.