When Not to Be Concerned About What Others Say
A GOOD name or reputation is a valuable possession. “A name,” says an ancient proverb, “is to be chosen rather than abundant riches.” (Prov. 22:1) In modern times a good name has been considered of such value as to merit legal protection against slander and libel. Rightly people want their name to be cleared of gross misrepresentation, especially when such misrepresentation could seriously affect their livelihood.
But often what others say, though it be critical and uncomplimentary, is not slanderous. How should you react when you are cast in a poor light? Should you concern yourself about this?
The Bible helps one to evaluate realistically what people may say. It urges: “Do not give heed to every word that is spoken lest you hear your servant speaking ill of you, for you know in your heart that you have may times spoken ill of others.”—Eccl. 7:21, 22, New American Bible.
This Scriptural admonition comes to grips with the way life really is. The best of people have their faults. “There is no man righteous in the earth,” we read in the Bible, “that keeps doing good and does not sin.” (Eccl. 7:20) All humans are sinful descendants of imperfect Adam. That is why a person should not be surprised if even a close friend, perhaps in an angry or vexed state, speaks about him to others in uncomplimentary terms. Hard as they may try to prevent it, imperfect people time and again fail to use their tongue for good. The Christian disciple James acknowledged: “We all stumble many times. If anyone does not stumble in word, this one is a perfect man, able to bridle also his whole body.”—Jas. 3:2.
Human imperfection is indeed a fact. Individually, we repeatedly fall far short of being the kind of persons we would like to be. Obviously, then, we cannot take seriously every remark that people may make. If a person were to do so, he would experience much emotional hurt. For example, he might hear that a close friend made some unfavorable comment about him. He could reason, ‘Well, if that’s the way he feels about me, I’m going to cut him off. I don’t want his friendship.’ In this way a good relationship could be ruined.
How much better it is to follow the Bible’s counsel ‘not to give heed to every word that is spoken’! This enables one to view objectively what people say. The person who is honest with himself knows that he has often said unfavorable things about others, without any malicious intent. This should help him to see that what others might say about him need not be regarded as a personal insult.
Then, too, we should keep in mind that secondhand information is often unreliable. Hence, a good principle to follow is: “Do not admit an accusation against an older man, except only on the evidence of two or three witnesses.” (1 Tim. 5:19) Acting in harmony with this principle will prevent us from being hasty in accepting as fact what someone supposedly said about us as individuals.
Also, undue interest in what people say in a favorable way can lead to trouble. Their praise can be a snare, causing the one who is lauded to begin thinking too highly of himself. When a person’s pride is thus fed, his good qualities may be shoved into the background. As a result, he may lose the fine reputation that he once enjoyed. A Bible proverb says: “Pride is before a crash, and a haughty spirit before stumbling.”—Prov. 16:18.
On the other hand, a person may learn that his words or actions have given a basis for valid criticism. In that case he would do well to consider what he might do to avoid giving reason for other’s complaining in the future. This would be in harmony with the Scriptural counsel: “Make sure of the more important things, so that you may be flawless and not be stumbling others.”—Phil. 1:10.
Even when misrepresented, a person may find it the course of wisdom not to make an issue of the matter. Instead of clearing up the misrepresentation, a person’s trying to put it down may only advertise it and cause more people to believe it.
Jesus Christ set a fine example in handling misrepresentations. Falsely accused of being a drunkard and a glutton, he did not argue about this. He simply said: “Wisdom is proved righteous by its works.” (Matt. 11:19) With these words, he invited others to look at the evidence. That evidence—the works—made it clear that the accusations were false.
The person who maintains fine conduct, treating others with consideration, in due course silences those who misrepresented him. It does not take long for sincere observers to see that what they have been told is false.
Those desiring to be in harmony with God’s will should be especially concerned about maintaining fine conduct. The Bible encourages them: “The will of God is, that by doing good you may muzzle the ignorant talk of the unreasonable men.”—1 Pet. 2:15.
When faced with name-calling or other misrepresentation designed to provoke one, it is usually best to turn a deaf ear to it. God’s faithful servant David did this with fine results. In one of his psalms, he said: “As for me, like someone deaf, I would not listen; and like someone speechless, I would not open my mouth. And I came to be like a man that was not hearing, and in my mouth there were no counterarguments.”—Ps. 38:13, 14.
What enabled David to act this way in the face of provocation? He realized that personally he could not straighten out the matter to full satisfaction. But he had confidence that his God, Jehovah, could do so. That is why he said: “For on you, O Jehovah, I waited; you yourself proceeded to answer, O Jehovah my God.” (Ps. 38:15) Would it not be beneficial to imitate the example of David? It most certainly would. The person who does not try to take everything into his own hands but patiently waits on his God is spared the frustrations and irritations resulting from fruitless fighting against moral wrongs.
Truly, in the daily affairs of life, wisdom dictates that one should not be overly concerned about what others say. Our ‘not giving heed to every word that people speak’ prevents us from taking needless offense or having our pride fed. At the same time we can profit from valid criticism, by endeavoring to make improvement. And, by preserving fine conduct, we can silence the ‘ignorant talk of unreasonable’ persons.