When we were having some improvements made on our house, one of the carpenters would often say to his helper, “Remember, measure twice, cut once.”
One day that advice came in handy when I had to cut a board to fit into the bottom of a cupboard. It was going to be a tight fit. I measured more than twice before I picked up the saw and cut. The board fit perfectly.
Sometimes I can do this better than other times when I have a little repair job to do, but the advice is always in the back of my mind to carefully think it through. Our carpenter friend would add, “You can cut a board shorter, but not longer.”
The “measure twice” adage can also be applied to thinking twice before speaking. How many times do people wish they’d thought twice before blurting out a hurtful remark that was hard to take back? Aren’t we relieved when we’ve held back criticism or an opinion about someone, and then later find out that we were wrong or that our condemnation was unjustified? Haven’t we all regretted saying something that was hurtful, wishing we’d been more thoughtful before speaking or spreading an unfounded rumor? How much more helpful it is for everyone involved to wait to speak the kind words that don’t have to be taken back.
How can we do better at this? Through thoughtful and loving prayer that acknowledges that each one of us is really the perfect child of God instead of an imperfect mortal. We can measure one’s identity right the first time. Through prayer we can realize, to some degree, that it is God who makes man and woman. God’s creation is not a flawed mortal, but is spiritual, a representative of the divine will. This real creation is not sinful or evil, but is the expression of holiness and righteousness; not stupid, but noble and upright. This perfect condition of God’s sons and daughters is the reality of every one of us, no matter how we humanly view ourselves or others.
Does holding back criticism mean never speaking to a friend for the purpose of pointing out some mistake he or she has made? Not at all. Sometimes it takes more love to quietly bring to light a fault seen in another than it does to remain silent for the sake of a false peace. But it can be done with love, not for the purpose of letting everyone know another’s fault.
Christ Jesus, whose life was full of loving words and deeds, said in what has become known as the Matthew Code, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother” (Matt. 18:15, Revised Standard Version).
The key to “measuring twice” before speaking is to make sure our words are going to do good, not harm. Even though harmful and hurtful words can be forgiven, they’re sometimes hard to take back, just as it’s hard to glue a piece of wood back onto the end of a board that’s been carelessly sawed off.
Mary Baker Eddy, who founded the Monitor, wrote, in a poem titled “Love”:
Thou to whose power our hope we give,
Free us from human strife.
Fed by Thy love divine we live,
For Love alone is life;
And life most sweet, as heart to heart
Speaks kindly when we meet and part.
(“Poems,” p. 7).
And the book of Job states, “Teach me, and I will hold my tongue: and cause me to understand wherein I have erred. How forcible are right words!” (Job 6:24, 25). Before we open our mouths to speak, we can thoughtfully consider that we’ve measured our words carefully. And we’ll know we have done so when our words are what we ourselves need to hear in the spirit of Christian brotherhood.