“Talk to the hand!” You’ve probably heard it said – or more vividly, seen it said. If I remember correctly, “Martin”, a TV comedy series in the 1990s popularized the phrase in the U.S. And it was usually in response to some unwanted advise, an excuse for a broken promise, an unrealistic request, etc.
If you’re not familiar with the phrase, picture one person trying to tell another something they don’t want to hear. So the second person brings the conversation to a screeching halt by fully extending their arm in the other person’s direction and shoving an open palm toward their face as they turn their own face away, “Talk to the hand!”
It can be funny . . . in certain situations between friends with that type of humor.
But it’s also very revealing of our natural desire to avoid potentially painful words. We would not only prefer that they shut up, we don’t even want them to come an inch closer to us. We’d rather literally keep them at arm’s length. So Proverbs 17:10 paints a real paradox: wise people don’t automatically avoid the pain of others’ words – they accept it.
“A rebuke goes deeper into a person of understanding than a hundred blows into a fool.”
But why? Most of us have probably received a correction from a caring friend, less-than-stellar feedback from a teacher or supervisor doing their job, or even a sudden verbal assault from a total stranger. Each of those can really hurt! How do you typicaly respond?
My standard response used to be an initial deer-in-the-headlights look and denial of the charges – sometimes no matter how small or big. Then I would search for an excuse, change the subject or try to shift the blame. But since participating in a very good counseling program in 2008-2009, God has graciously sent many helpful mentors and some stubbornly truthful, loving and wise people into my life. I now try to chew the chicken, swallow and digest what I need, and spit out any bones later – sometimes much later to ensure that I’ve received all that I can from the bitter meal.
But it goes against our natural instinct for self-protection to lower our defenses in order to let others’ words cut us. So why should we? Two primary reasons come to my mind.
* Others often see things in us that we don’t see – things we can’t see or don’t want to see. There’s much practical wisdom in choosing to hear how they experience us. Without defending ourselves, asking them to “tone it down” or correcting them on “the facts” as we remember them. We just need to listen. And even if they’re the biggest jerk and only intend to hurt us, we can’t grow personally if we won’t hear and consider their words.
* We also need to be able to identify such openness in others. As leaders, counselors, parents, supervisors, etc., we will make the most progress working with the person(s) most open to listen – especially when they’re given hard feedback. Otherwise, we will likely waste a lot of time and energy trying to convince others who are more stubborn and proud.
So it’s about our own growth in godliness and growth in more effective, efficient ministry with others. May each of us pray for grace to receive what others have to say – no matter how hard their words may be.