Those who guard their mouths preserve their lives;those who open wide their lips come to ruin. (Proverbs 13:3)
Have you noticed that sometimes public figures say the wrong things? Sometime it’s a profanity into a live mic they didn’t realize was live. Other times it’s just a poorly worded, off the cuff remark. On any given week you can find at least one or two glaring examples in the public sphere. A poltician makes an overstatement about how business owners owe their success to infrastructures rather than their own efforts. A religious leader, unhappy with a decision, implies that those who have made it are motivated by racism. When I read about such public speaking gaffes I wonder – what kind of self talk goes on after the public figure has a private moment to reflect?
Let’s make it personal.When is the last time you have said something you immediately regretted? And then how do you process that, learn from it, and avoid a repeat performance?
The 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg comes up next summer on the first three days of July. I’m always tuned into Civil War news because my dad, a Civil War buff, wrote a book on Abraham Lincoln when my brother and I were young. We walked the battlefield with him many a fall weekend.
A massive re enactment is being planned for next summer with thousands of people coming from all over the world. The Battle of Gettysburg was a desperate Confederate attempt to invade the North, perhaps encircle Washington, D.C. On July 3, 1863, Gen Robert E. Lee, the commander of the Confederate army, sent 12,500 infantry up “Cemetery Ridge,” to attack the Union position. That was twice as many Confederates as there were Union soldiers waiting at the top of the hill. The assault is called “Pickett’s Charge,” named after Major General George Pickett, one of three Confederate generals who led the assault under General James Longstreet. Nearly half the Confederates were either killed or wounded. 4,000 were captured. With over 50% casualities, Pickett’s Charge was the decisive defeat that ended the three-day battle and Lee’s campaing into Pennsylvania.
One basic reason the charge failed was because it broke a military rule of thumb- an assault requires three times the number of troops to dislodge the enemy from an entrenched position.
When you have made a glaring public mis speak, or, for that matter, a private one, you are in pain. You have to do something with your self recriminations, anger and regret.
There are three positions you can take.
You can get defensive and turn your anger at yourself against others.
You can turn your negative emotions inward on yourself.
You can acknowledge your error, analyze how and why it happened and strategize a way to avoid it in the future.
If you’re entrenched in one of the first two positions, it’s going to take a powerful force to dislodge you and move you forward. It will have to be force at least three times as strong as your resistance.
So launch a three pronged attack. Send in the honesty brigade. You are going to have to face into what you have said or done and the harm it has done or may do. In the Christian tradition this is called self examination, and it is a necessary prelude to repentance.
Repentance is the second brigade. You’re going to need to ask God for forgiveness and for wisdom not to repeat your mistakes.
Grace is the third brigade. Grace is God’s forgiveness and energizing power that flows into your mind and heart and helps you forgive yourself, make the amends that you can, and move forward.
You need all three, honesty, repentance and Grace. Any one without the other two, is ineffectual.
Years after the Civil War had ended, when asked why his charge at Gettysburg failed, General Pickett replied, “I’ve always thought the Yankees had something to do with it.”When we say the wrong thing, in public or private, the only way forward is to yield to a superior force. Only one force is stronger than self deception, defensiveness and self recrimination. I’m going to remember that the next time I say the wrong thing.