Proverbs 16:23: “The mind of the wise makes their speech judicious, and adds persuasiveness to their lips.”
When I get into trouble, it’s usually because my speech has been injudicious and unpersuasive. In the technical language of psycholinguistics, that is to say, it’s been stupid or mean. And that depressingly frequent occurrence is almost always a function of speaking out of reflex rather than out of reflection.
If one has an utterly innocent heart, one can speak truly and lovingly. But judicious and persuasive speech requires more than a pure heart: it requires a wise mind.
As the Proverbs cumulatively teach, wisdom is knowledge applied according to sound values felt in properly cultivated affections and informed by the particulars of a given situation.
Wisdom applied faithfully to a frequently recurring situation can act automatically in each iteration. In every other instance, however, we must give wisdom time to operate.
So whenever I see a warning light blink on my mental dashboard, whenever an alarm chimes that something unusual is going on, whenever a sensor reports something in the current situation that is anything other than routine, I simply must slow down.
In fact, I must stop. I must refuse to react immediately, but instead insist on stopping in order to give wisdom time to deliberate like a judge so that my response will be judicious.
I have developed a short mnemonic to practice this habit of deliberate hesitation (following the advice I first encountered in, of all places, Glenn Tinder’s The Political Meaning of Christianity), this purposeful pause to collect myself, collect the data, recollect my guiding values, and act accordingly:
Again, even if I were a saint, I would still need to practice this principle, since saints, however holy, are not capable of instantaneous processing of complex data in every new situation. The brain has to be given time to work. The soul needs to sort itself out, as well as to sort out that with which it is now presented.
Let’s also, therefore, give each other time, rather than expecting, even demanding, instant assent. We will make better decisions, formulate apter advice, and speak both more judiciously and persuasively if we will all stop to pray and interpret before we respond.
And I expect you to comment below right away that you entirely agree.