Thinking Out Loud

November 27, 2010

Self Editing: Careful Monitoring of What You Say

My oldest son made an interesting comment about a speaker we heard recently:  “I appreciated what she had to say, but she doesn’t self-edit.”   Self-editing involves that little 2.3 milliseconds between what your brain is thinking, and the actual movement of your lips.   It’s a brief allowance in time for you to decide what you’re about to say is not really in your best interests.   The wisdom to make this decision might arise from maybe reading a little book called Proverbs.

It happens all the time…

  • the husband who knows how to answer when his wife asks, “Does this make me look fat?”
  • the car dealer who is careful not to let slip that the $11,000 used car only fetched its previous owner $2,000 as a trade-in
  • the gift recipient who doesn’t want to admit that she already has two George Foreman grills; neither one out of the box
  • the student who doesn’t want to tell her math teacher that he has bits of his lunch on his sport jacket

…and other situations of that ilk.

What I’ve found is that sometimes we are more careful to avoid potentially awkward situations than we to avoid ones that are more blatantly hurtful.  In other words, we’re more likely to censor ourselves, or if you prefer the term, self-edit, for reasons other than those that would cause direct pain.

Maybe we think the amended adage “Sticks and stones may break your bones but names will never hurt you” is true.   But neither it nor its original version comes close to the truth.   Names do hurt, and they cause damage that causes people to shut down socially, or even end up in counseling for years following the hurt.


I am always amazed that otherwise seemingly intelligent people are capable of self-editing in so many different business, educational and social situations, but lack the grace to stop their mouths in situations where they are clearly bringing hurt to someone else.

Why do they do this?

There are a number of reasons, but one of them might be that they believe that certain people are impervious to pain and injury.

And one of the groups they believe fit this category is pastors, clergy,  and people generally in ministry.   We believe they are tough enough to take a lot of pain, take a lot of pain, our words are like a cloud, bring a lot of rain.  (Wow! I should copyright that line.)   We believe that something in their seminary training gave them rhinoceros hides — skin so thick that nothing can injure them.   We believe that as God’s representatives on earth they will just smile and nod and continue to say, “God bless you.”

Well it ain’t so.

Pastors and ministry workers are people, too.   They have their own spiritual life which can be devastated by insensitive remarks.   They have their own spiritual formation happening.   If anything, their profession leaves them more vulnerable to hurt.

And they cry.

Ministry profile has its price; and some of that is increased sensitivity to careless remarks or outright criticism.   Some pastors would gladly shed the large round target that is apparently painted on all their vestments.

But for all of us, in every situation, and every type of interaction, it begins with a heightened self-editing mechanism that is set to monitor potential hurt.

Several months ago, someone in ministry I know was dealt an unexpected blow that was actually quite calculated on the part of the perpetrator, who was out to prove a point, and out to accomplish an objective, but never thought to monitor for potential long-term damage. In carrying out their crusade, the perpetrator had a billion times more than the normal 2.3 milliseconds, but never bothered to self-edit themselves.

The recipient of their words is still hurting.

Related post on this blog:  Words Matter.

Another related post: Easy To Be Hard.

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4 Comments »

  1. tact plays a role as well. sure self editing can be handy, but i think the way things are said are equally as important. sometimes the truth can hurt, but the strategy we use to deliver said truth can be a great asset. taking the an example from this post, maybe if they student informed that teacher quietly and avoided letting the little mishap become public knowledge, then the teacher would have suffered far less embarrassment, and even perhaps been thankful toward that student for saving them some face.

    Comment by Richard Allen — November 27, 2010 @ 7:00 pm

    • Good point. Thanks for your comment.

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — November 27, 2010 @ 7:41 pm

  2. [...] leader I was talking to was clearly dancing around it.    You could feel the tension of the self editing taking place.   The words used were different, but the articulation was intended to convey the [...]

    Pingback by When “OMG” and “WTF” Come to Church « Thinking Out Loud — December 18, 2010 @ 1:30 pm

  3. [...] Christian leader I was talking to was clearly dancing around it. You could feel the tension of the self editing taking place. The words used were different, but the articulation was intended to convey the spirit [...]

    Pingback by When Worldliness Invades « Christianity 201 — December 18, 2010 @ 6:44 pm


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