Is it true, kind or necessary? The power of the tongue

May 23, 2016 | (23) Comments

When you are immersed in one of the world’s largest and most prestigious medical centers, within one of the nation’s best and busiest children’s and women’s hospitals, one thing you might not ever expect to encounter is gossip. That’s because gossip, to most of us, is something that happens in a small town, in social clubs, in church … at high schools. But the truth of the matter is it happens everywhere, even here at Texas Children’s. And if we are not careful about what we share and with whom, we can easily find ourselves being a party to hurtful, destructive behavior.

Words have such incredible power, and negative words are particularly harmful. Gossip and rumors are so potent and often ruin reputations, friendships and families. Just as devastating are false, deceitful or unkind words in the workplace. They can create a toxic environment and greatly damage an organization, decreasing our focus and productivity and causing us to lose good staff and employees. There can even be legal ramifications if career-damaging gossip defames a person’s character or impacts their employability. Something that powerful deserves our close attention.

Dr. Ed Young, the pastor of Second Baptist Church, delivered a sermon – The Transparent Secret – a few years ago about this very thing. Dr. Young explained how speaking the right words at the right time is like “apples of gold and baskets of silver.” These positive words have soothing, healing powers. They diffuse situations, strengthen relationships and comfort people. However, the opposite is just as true when we speak the wrong words to the wrong people. Dr. Young called these words rotten apples.

“Rotten apples can upset an office. A rotten apple affects a home, a club, a church or any kind of group we’re in. It’s important that we do not speak rotten apples. However, some people have that habit. It’s ingrained in their lives and in their personalities. And all of us have areas of rottenness in our speech.”

He said those who are in the “rotten apple business” – whether on the internet or telephone, in the office or in the family – cause three deaths when they spread negativity: that of oneself, the person they’re sharing it with and the victim in the story, whether it’s true or not. Because we can sometimes even unintentionally be tempted to share information that quickly crosses the line into the arena of gossip, Dr. Young reminded us of this quick test. He said there are three things we should ask ourselves before we speak: Is it true? Is it kind? And is it necessary?

Let’s examine that a bit.

Is it true? Ever hear of that expression “too good to be true?” Well I think some things are too bad to be true. Too offensive to be true. Too unlike the normal character of the person in question to be true. And often when we hear false things about people, a voice within us refutes it. Yet, we listen anyway, and worse, we may repeat it. But is it true? Also, consider the source. Is the bit of information crossing your ears coming from someone who knows the inside scoop on everybody? How is that possible? It’s not, and chances are some, most or possibly all of what you are hearing is not accurate or being shared in the right context.

Is it kind? I admit it – some things we hear will be undeniably true. Maybe we have a firsthand account of the situation. Perhaps we observed it with our own eyes. But ask yourself, if the information that you have become privy to is unkind or unflattering to the affected person, should you repeat it? Almost always, the answer is no. The momentary relief or satisfaction one might get from sharing negative information can cause long-lasting or possibly irreparable damage to someone’s reputation and self-esteem. Our words are that powerful. Make sure they don’t perpetuate unkindness.

Is it necessary? This question is critical, because it often will place a hard stop on the flow of information that might have slipped past the first two questions. In fact, when assessing if something is necessary, Dr. Young challenged, “Are you saving a life? Are you protecting someone from abuse?” Chances are, much of what’s repeated often falls in neither category.

There are things we will know about others that are absolutely true. And we may consider our actions kind because we believe the intentions of our hearts are good. But even good intentions must be questioned to maintain the best interest of all those involved. Is there really any net gain for the greater good in sharing the information you know? Depending on the information and your relationship with the affected person, maybe what he or she deserves or actually needs is guidance, a listening ear or prayer to help get them onto a better path.

Giving and being our best selves means ridding ourselves of false or negative words … getting rid of those rotten apples, as Dr. Young calls them. Instead, he suggests, give golden apples. Golden apples give health and joy. If we are mindful, we can use golden apples – positive words and constructive actions – to make an impact that builds a relationship, lifts a team’s morale or strengthens the culture of an entire organization.

23 Responses to “Is it true, kind or necessary? The power of the tongue”

  1. Kim Frawner

    Thank you for summarizing this issue so well. Gossip and pessimism are cancers that can poison a team and destroy teamwork, productivity, and joy at work. This is a great reminder to us all to lead by example and leave the drama and gossip to the high schoolers!

  2. Bonnie Magliaro

    Thank you Mark for differentiating what is gossip and what is information that must be shared in our journey toward zero harm. I know that you and our board support our Error Prevention Training that there is a proper time, proper place, and proper way to speak up when information that you have, if not shared, could either harm a patient or prevent harm to a patient. All it takes is to for us to ponder your last question “is it necessary” and then we will all do the right thing for our patients when it comes to sharing sensitive information.

  3. Rose Shepard

    This blog has truly given us a reason for honest self examination and it is a powerful eye opener as well! In the bible in the book of James ~ chapter 3:5 it states “even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth!
    Thank you for this Awesome word of advice and for sharing Dr. Young’s sermon!!! This has truly been a refreshing and encouraging piece to read!

  4. Gary Clark

    This is very nicely said! While there are people who always look at the world with glass-half-empty lenses, it is important that we don’t propagate that sort of pessimism or misinformation. Rather, let’s correct what needs correction, fix what needs fixing and realize that we are in a remarkable place with remarkable people and in remarkable times. With that formula, we all can do some really remarkable things, help a lot of kids, and change our professions for the better.

  5. Lucy Fernandez

    This is very true ! Dr. Young is a very wise man. Thank you for talking about the subject of gossip. Gossip destroys lives daily. A place of employment that is divided due to Gossip does not prosper and it becomes a very unpleasant place to be. Let’s keep Gossip where it belongs: ” In the Garbage”.

  6. Nan Curie

    This reminds me of an accronym to consider before speaking-THINK:
    T-is it true?
    H-is it helpful?
    I-is it inspirational?
    N-is it necessary?
    K-is it kind?

  7. Yarnell McGee

    Thank you, Mr. Wallace!!! Thoughts are words. There is power in the tongue to lift up or cast down. We should always strive to lift each other up. There is a book entitled “Hung by the Tongue” that talks about this very subject.

  8. Ivy Lynn Ersan

    This also goes for accepting the disposition of patients and families in shift report. If the bias is removed from our conversations, our own evaluation of the situation and personalities involved won’t likely be tainted. And we would be surprised how this openness effects more compassion in our thoughts and actions (i.e. giving someone the benefit of the doubt when not so many have). When we are receptive and humble enough to hear all sides of the story, we are able to extend that compassion in a holistic manner.

  9. Glory Jackson

    This couldn’t have come at a better time and such powerful words that we need to hear. Thanks for these inspirational and up lifting words it has been so helpful.
    Let’s make our words of silver and gold to encourage, to be helpful, inspiring and kind to
    all, it will only give you JOY.
    Thanks again.

  10. Janta Rainey

    I was fortunate enough to hear Dr. Young share this info and I am elated that you are sharing it with the TCH family. It is very impactful and I think it will make us all think twice about the words we choose to share with others. Thanks again!


    Thank you for the inspirational information. We should treat others as we want to be treated.
    This would improve morale and communication.



    Thanks for sharing this. I really needed to read this this morning. I was just faced with a bad apple / coworker on a different shift this week 5/23/16. This bad apple was very hostile and threating I had to address the issue with my AD and HR. So this has been a not so good week for me. In the end I still enjoy coming to work and working at one of the best Institutions in Houston. This has not changed me are my work ethics. We should always treat others with respect and be teams players through out the Institution.

  13. Mona Lisa

    Words I long to hear. Great coming from the top. Sure to trickle down to the rest of TCH. May I use some of your quotes you in our departmental newsletter?

  14. Sushant Jain

    Thank you for these words, Mr. Wallace! Gossip and pessimism definitely defeats the department’s/organization’s mission. Your words encourage us to lead by example!

  15. Benetria Jones

    Great message Mr. Wallace!!
    We are so fortunate to be able to create a positive atmosphere with our words, and make people lives much brighter.
    LOVE IT!

  16. Tina Ninan

    What a challenging article that is 100% on point. Thank you for sharing and bringing to our “consciousness”. I truly believe in the power of words and appreciate the thoughtful summary.

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