Why We Need Filters

I recently started a new job at a bakery and I absolutely love it. So does my husband – he gets lots of the day-old goodies that do not sell. I was having a conversation with my new boss when a middle-aged woman walked into the bakery, around the counter, into my boss’s office, and closed the door. Strange.

“Oh, I forgot to tell you about Jess*,” my boss whispered, “She really helps me out around here, she’s basically my boss. But you should know that she has no filter; she just says exactly what she is thinking. So she can come off as a little rude sometimes, but you just have to get used to it, that’s just Jess.”

Now, to be fair, Jess has been a joy to work with and we get along really well. She can be sassy occasionally, but I find it is usually directed at my boss, with whom she has a long-standing, close relationship, and not to me. I think friends should be able to speak openly and freely to one another, so long as they have that mutual understanding about their communication system. But the way my boss introduced Jess got me thinking about plenty of other friends and co-workers I have met who introduce themselves with the same line: I have no filter.

Sometimes, as in Jess’s case, this isn’t a very big deal; but sometimes, it really is. I had a few friends in college who ruined our relationship with plenty of sarcastic comments, jokes, and direct insults, all of which were quickly followed by joking phrases such as, I’m just kidding. Or my personal favorite, no offense. Let me just go on record and say that insulting someone and following it up with no offense in order to somehow ‘cover up’ the insult is like punching someone and then saying I have no self-control. My answer is Well, you should. Just because you can’t control your hands doesn’t mean it’s okay to hit people and just because you can’t control your mouth doesn’t mean it’s okay to hurt them.

As I’ve thought this idea over in my head, I can’t help but feel that those who use the excuse, I have no filter, must be very immature people. It brings to mind a children’s story I was required to read in junior high about two poor children looking for a Christmas tree in New York City. In the story, the older child, a young girl of about 12 or 13, observes an old man swearing loudly at the horse pulling his buggy, and she comes to the conclusion that (I will never, ever forget this) he must not be very intelligent or he would have come up with better words to express how he felt. Now, I know that swearing and using sarcasm can be two very different things, but I think that in both cases, hurtful words are used when they simply shouldn’t be.

For Christians, James 3 has plenty to say about Taming the Tongue. Right after he discusses how our faith should be reflected in our deeds, James’s next section is devoted to recognizing the power behind our words. Coincidence? Of course not. James 3:6 says The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell. Now I don’t know about you, but I’ve known plenty of people whose words shape their heart. Remember your friends in elementary school who didn’t swear, EVER. Then they went to junior high or high school, learned all kinds of new words, phrases, and innuendos, and turned into jerks. I remember them. Words ruin hearts and not just the hearts of those who hear them. So why do we excuse our saying them with, no offense, as if what we say doesn’t hurt our audience or ourselves?

Now, I firmly believe James is talking to Christians hear. Duh, right? So what does that mean for those of us who are not believers?

My mind drifts to Proverbs. I’ve heard many non-Christians quote Proverbs, especially lawyers and poets. I really don’t know why – that’s just the groups in which I’ve heard it mentioned. Anyway, there’s plenty in Proverbs about how our words affect both those around us and our very souls. Here’s a few:

  • Proverbs 18:21 – Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.

  • Proverbs 15:4 – A gentle tongue is a tree of life, but perverseness in it breaks the spirit.

  • Proverbs 10:18 – The one who conceals hatred has lying lips, and whoever utters slander is a fool.

I love this last one. Whoever conceals hatred. Now if that doesn’t sound like no offense when you’re really putting out a dig at someone, I don’t know what does.

We heard other proverbs as kids that taught us this, remember?

If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all. So who told us that saying just kidding or no offense after we say something hurtful made it ok? Who told us that we were free to speak slander and harsh words all we wanted, so long as we warn people beforehand, I just don’t have a filter.

The world needs kind words right now, but it always has and somehow we still ended up in this mess. It certainly doesn’t need more immature people who are too lazy to keep their mouths under control. Especially if, as James says, we claim to be Christians whose actions should be the outer workings of our faith. Get it together, everybody. Grow up and get a filter.