Insensitivity makes a wound that heals slowly. If someone hurts your feelings intentionally you know how to react. You know the source of the pain. But if someone accidentally bruises your soul, it’s difficult to know how to respond.
Someone at work criticizes the new boss who also happens to be your dear friend. “Oh, I’m sorry—I forgot the two of you were so close.”
A joke is told at a party about overweight people. You’re overweight. You hear the joke. You smile politely while your heart sinks.
What was intended to be a reprimand for a decision or action becomes a personal attack. “You have a history of poor decisions, John.”
Someone chooses to wash your dirty laundry in public. “Sue, is it true that you and Jim are separated?”
Insensitive comments. Thoughts that should have remained thoughts. Feelings which had no business being expressed. Opinions carelessly tossed like a grenade into a crowd.
And if you were to tell the one who threw these thoughtless darts about the pain they caused, his response would be “Oh, but I had no intention…I didn’t realize you were so sensitive!” or “I forgot you were here.”
Listed under the title of subterfuge is the poison of insensitivity. It’s called subterfuge because it’s so subtle. Just a slip of the tongue. Just a blank of memory. No one is at fault. No harm done.
Perhaps. And, perhaps not. For as the innocent attackers go on their way excusing themselves for things done without hurtful intention, a wounded soul is left in the dust, utterly confused. “If no one intended to hurt me, then why do I hurt so badly?”
God’s Word has strong medicine for those who carelessly wag their tongues.
The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.1
He who guards his mouth and his tongue keeps himself from calamity.2
He who guards his lips guards his life, but he who speaks rashly will come to ruin.3
When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise.4
The message is clear: He who dares to call himself God’s ambassador is not afforded the luxury of idle words. Excuses such as “I didn’t know you were here” or “I didn’t realize this was so touchy” are shallow when they come from those who claim to be followers and imitators of the Great Physician. We have an added responsibility to guard our tongues.
These practical steps will purge careless words from your talk:
1. Never tell jokes that slander.
2. Never criticize in public unless you: have already expressed your disappointment with the other person in private, have already taken someone with you to discuss the grievance with the person, and are absolutely convinced that public reprimand is necessary and will be helpful.
3. Never say anything about anyone in their absence that you wouldn’t say in their presence.
Insensitive slurs may be accidental, but they are not excusable.
1 James 3:6
2 Proverbs 21:23
3 Proverbs 13:3
4 Proverbs 10:19