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Why Talking Back Does Not Work

Updated on August 31, 2015
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My mom taught me not to talk smack to her or dire consequences would follow. I would get punished big time with a whack where the sun don't shine, and lose supper or a privilege. These days, I am dismayed to see that talking back has become the norm. Kids talk back to their parents. People brawl in the street because one person cut off another person in traffic. Reality TV seems to mostly be people fighting for their rights by telling each other off.

The reasons people mouth off varies. These days it does not take much to spark talking back.

  • People feel their rights have been violated - someone cut in front of them in line, took their parking spot
  • People are hurt and offended and cover up their emotional pain by blustering back talk
  • They are venting their anger
  • They are jealous of another person and want to cut them down or put them in their place
  • They feel they have been treated unfairly and talk back to try to obtain justice

Talking back creates several illusions. First, we feel that we are defending ourselves against a verbal attack. We think that we are straightening out someone who is wrong and forcing them to see our viewpoint. We may also feel that we are putting someone "in their place" or "down a peg or two.” We may set out to deflate what we see as pride and arrogance in the other person.

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Why talking back does not work

We often justify talking back in our minds. We feel compelled to correct someone that we feel is wrong or unfair. We feel put up down and lash out with hurtful words. Much as we try, though, our talking back won't do any good and will probably do a lot of harm.

Instead of straightening the person out, it is more likely that people will shut down, refuse to listen, or walk away. The target will probably get defensive and be thinking more about how to defend themselves instead of listening to us. Our targets may become so angry that they lash out verbally or physically. We usually talk back when we are angry, so we are likely to say things that are hurtful. We damage our relationships and may put our jobs or positions in jeopardy.

We lose credibility when we mouth off. People are more likely to dismiss what we say. They may shut down completely and refuse to listen to us. We hurt other people when we talk back. The in-your-face talking back can be threatening and fill people with fear.

What we can do

We are called as Christians to be compassionate, kind, humble, gentile and patient. We are supposed to put up with people with whom we have a grievance and forgive them (Colossians 3:12-14). Our words should not defile or corrupt (Matthew 15:11, Ephesians 4:12) our conversation but be healthy – seasoned with salt (Colossians 4:6). Gracious words are like a honeycomb that is sweet to the soul and healthy for the body (Proverbs 16-24).

Sometimes, we need to turn the other cheek and let a situation go. It is not our job to fix other people or force them to see our side – we should leave that up to God. We Christians should humbly speak in the name of Jesus with a thankful heart (Colossians 3:17), not scream at our kids or other people like banshees. Our words should only be used to build others up, not tear them down.

Some people may think that those who do not fight back are wimps. In actuality, it takes tremendous strength and character to hold back. Letting words rush out without restraint is foolish but silence or carefully-considered, gentle words are wise. We are in more control of the situation because our emotions are not running amuck.

Walking away can actually save our lives. Some talking back results in physical fights, injury and even death. Jesus instructs us that if someone hits us on one cheek to turn the other cheek to them. He said that if someone asks for your cloak, give it to him without a fight (Matthew 5:38-40). In His time, the Romans ruled with a brutal iron fist. Mouthing off could get you beat up or killed.

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Humility vs Pride

We are often motivated to talk back by outraged pride. This pride will lead us down a dark path is we let it to rage and all kinds of sin. God hates pride and its destructive power. "A haughty look" is number one on his "things I hate" list (Proverbs 6:15-17). He also detests its fruits such as brawling, fighting, and filthy conversation.

Instead, we should be humble. Verbal bullets bounce off instead of upsetting us because we do not care what people think of us.

Letting go of our desire for vengeance

Another dark force behind talking back is the desire for revenge. God has said that we should not seek revenge. Instead, we should rely on God to be our avenger. If we continue to behave with integrity, the people who slander us will be put to shame (1 Peter 3:14-16). If we bite and devour each other, we may consume each other (Galatians 5:13-15).

Be mindful

As Christians, we need to realize that the words we speak can be like a spark that starts a raging fire (James 3:6). The more a fire burns, the more destructive it will be. Recognizing this, we should take time to think about how we should respond, even if it means giving up an opportunity to setting the record straight. If we can keep calm, we can hear what we need to hear and try to understand the other person’s side. There will be times we do need to speak up and correct something, but we need to do so with love.

Be peacemakers

God has a blessing for people who are peacemakers (1Peter 3:9-11). He wants us to live in harmony with all people. Our words should be encouraging and helpful at all times. We need to put aside our need to be right and correct the world. Ultimately we cannot control what other people think or do. If we resist our carnal need to mouth off, we can live peacefully with all people with a lot less conflict.

Reference: The Holy Bible, New International Version

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    Robert E Smith 23 months ago from Rochester, New York

    I've always had a mind to look up the rules of conduct for the Roman occupation of the Holy Land. I had heard a few sermons that spoke of "acceptable" conduct of an army officer to the general public. These were supposed to be practical things, nominal rights that officers had over the common people. For example if a soldier needed a cloak because of coldness or to dress a wounded and cold fellow soldier, the officer could demand of any common person to have his outer covering and just his outer covering. The law was not to take every item of covering a person had. So the cloak would be demanded but then the Christian was to go the extra mile and (if he had it) give the soldier a second covering as well. Another example was that the law stated that a soldier could compel a person to walk with him a mile to help carry a burden or to aid him in some way. The Christian was admonished to go two miles with him, offering him an extra mile to show Christ's love to him. The other cheek thing is one I can't remember too well but people were ready to defend themselves if it looked like more than the "legal" one hit to "restore respect" was done to someone. But the Christian noting the reason for being struck was to offer the other to the soldier to let him know he was respected as the authority put in place by God. It is a very interesting system they had there. I enjoyed reading and remembering some of my early training in Scripture. Voted up and awesome! Bob.

  • Gordon Wright profile image

    Gordon Wright 24 months ago

    Fair enough, Carola. There are those who don't make this distinction. I'm glad you do.

  • Carola Finch profile image
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    Carola Finch 24 months ago from Ontario, Canada

    Thanks for your comments, everyone. "Mouthing off" or "talking back" in this article is defined as an inappropriate response when people hurt or anger us. I don't consider Jesus as "mouthing off" in that respect when, in His position as a teacher and prophet, pointed out sin and hypocrisy (one on the next articles I am working on). He did not "mouth off" at His trial. Jesus Himself said that people who are humble and peacemakers are blessed. The apostle Paul and the books of Proverbs and James are very clear on how we should not speak "unwholesome words" but build other people up. There is a time to speak out, but not as "mouthing off."

  • Gordon Wright profile image

    Gordon Wright 24 months ago

    All the great prophets of the Bible talked back to power. Jesus mouthed off against the Pharisees, as did Stephen. Ezekiel 33 spells out the duty clearly: Though shalt not keep thy mouth shut.

    In my own life I have seen great evil perpetuated because no one had the gumption to say something. I have sometimes held my tongue because of reasoning very similar to what's in this article, and later regretted it.

    The Bible does say not to belabor the point. If they're just not listening, shake the dust off your feet against them.

    Do we really lose credibility when we mouth off? Not necessarily, in my experience. But we lose credibility by saying nothing. When the evil comes to fruition, people will ask "why didn't you speak up?" What then will you have to say for yourself?

    I mostly respect and admire Carol's posts. This one, however, strikes me as misguided.

  • MsDora profile image

    Dora Isaac Weithers 24 months ago from The Caribbean

    Talking back takes so much energy, and the anger associated with it can make the individual embarrass himself/herself. You give such wise counsel here. Thank you very much.

  • yalul profile image

    Yalul 24 months ago from Philippines

    I don't know if it has something to do with my being a Christian, but most of the time I hold my tongue whenever I feel offended. I just know that whatever that comes out of my mouth that I haven't really thought about might be something that I will regret later on.

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