A Word of Encouragement from Elizabeth Rice Handford

Friends invited several of families over for dinner one evening. We were congenial. The conversation was lively, important, and uninhibited.

But suddenly one of the guests, a fourteen-year-old, interrupted. He blurted out a loud criticism of the opinions others expressed. They were stupid; they didn’t know what they were talking about. Their views were ridiculous and judgmental. He would set everybody straight.

His mother said quietly, “Son, be quiet.”

“Why?” he protested loudly. “I have a right to express my opinion.”

“Certainly,” she answered reasonably. “And your opinion is important. But you don’t have the right to interrupt others, and you certainly don’t have a right to be rude.”

The youngster was right about one thing: he does have a right to express his opinion. The first amendment to the United States constitution guarantees it:

“Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.”

But that amendment just as surely protects everyone else’s right to express their opinions, too. I wished I could catch the young man in a quiet moment, to ask him several questions:

1. Is the opinion you expressed about something that is truly important to you, something really serious you believe others ought to know? If you argue about everything, no one is going to suppose this is really important to you.

2. Have you seriously investigated all the facts for yourself? Have you really listened to both sides of the argument and understood them? Or are you quoting what you heard someone say? Just because you heard it, or read it somewhere, is no proof it is true.

3. Did you listen carefully to what the other person actually said, so that you really understood him? Could you agree with any part of his argument? Can you find any common ground? Perhaps your opinions are not so opposite as you thought. Find something you can agree about to begin a thoughtful, profitable conversation.

4. What is your motivation? To help your listeners change their minds, or to prove how smart you are? Are you willing to find out what God says about this in His Bible? Will you take it seriously to heart?

Dear friends, be quick to listen,
slow to speak,
and slow to get angry.
Your anger can never
make things right in God’s sight. James 1:19,20

Suppose that brash kid is the only person who needs to ask himself these questions before spouting out an opinion?