Be careful with your words
March 07, 2017
Words from the mouth of a wise man are gracious, while the lips of a fool consume him... – ECCLESIASTES 10:12
King Solomon recognized the dangers of putting a little person in a big position. Just let a fool talk, he reasoned, and his words will get the better of him. Words are powerful things. Used rightly, they bless, encourage and instruct. Used haphazardly, they can wound, confuse and destroy.
Leaders-in-training at West Point are taught economy with words early in their careers. They begin their freshman year with a severely limited vocabulary. Plebes may answer questions from their superiors in only four ways: Yes, sir; No, sir; No excuse, sir; and Sir, I do not understand. “Yes, sir” and “No, sir” teach the value of being direct. “No excuse, sir” ensures that they learn to think in terms of teamwork and success. “Sir, I do not understand” impresses cadets with the importance of making sure instructions and expectations are crystal clear. It is a rather limited vocabulary—but it works, and any system for developing leaders that has been honed for nearly two centuries probably has as much to teach us ordinary folks as it does future generals.
The bottom line is this: a wise man (or a wise woman) carefully measures his words. Jesus told his followers to “let your yes be yes and your no be no.” A fool says too much, and often says it recklessly. Understand the impact and the power of words. I learned many years ago that before I broadcast my profound opinion based on excellent insight, I had better get all the facts that are available and seek the whole truth, not just a piece of it. The fool is indiscreet, but the wise man measures his words.