We should be more careful with our words

Published: Wednesday, December 19, 2012 at 07:56 PM.

As a result of Hollywood, President Abraham Lincoln has received, of late, a resurgence in popularity. This is true even though he has been seen (not in his lifetime, but afterward becoming a popular martyr following his assassination) as one of our best by many — if not by states’ rights enthusiasts and Confederate sympathizers who still decry his suspension of the writ of Habeas Corpus some 150 years ago.

But regardless of our sympathies, we could all learn something very important from Lincoln that will help us in our daily interactions with each other. It is a communication technique that opinion mongers like Huckabee — really all of us — should make a routine in our own lives.

Don’t make the phone call, don’t send the email or tweet, don’t open up your mouth until you’ve had the chance to think about what you’re about to say. In Marine Corps lingo: "Don’t put your mouth in gear before you engage your brain."

In today’s parlance, "the tongue" includes voice messages, emails and tweets as well as the written word on websites, in the blogosphere, and in the traditional media. The potential adverse impact of failing to "hold one’s tongue" applies regardless of the medium in which the words are transmitted. That little bit of muscle mostly hidden in our mouths is by far the world’s most dangerous weapon.

In Lincoln’s days, letters sent via the postal service were the primary means of communication for the average citizen, including the president who was more an average citizen in the 1860s then he is today. Lincoln was leading a divided nation engaged in a bloody civil war, with no guarantee that the nation he was leading could survive. The emotion was so thick, you might imagine, that it could be cut with a knife in virtually every decision that he made.

Lincoln would write a letter. Letters whose content contained more than perfunctory administrative matters and had even the possibility of expressing emotion were set aside to be reread the next day. After a night of contemplation of their contents, those letters would often be balled up and thrown away to be rewritten with less emotion — rethought to be written more appropriately given the importance, seriousness or travesty of the situation about which Lincoln was writing.

We could all benefit by adopting Lincoln’s communication (or rather his delaying communication) technique. And our lives would be much better if we lived by the following related (author unattributed) advice: "Watch your thoughts, for they become your words. Watch your words, they become your actions. Watch your actions, they become your habits. Watch your habits, they become your character. Watch your character, for it will become your destiny."

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