I learned the hard way how easy it is to breach a dam.
When I was fourteen, my dad hired a contractor to enlarge a stock pond on our ranch by building a dam. It was ten feet high and thirty feet thick at its base.
As the pond filled, we discovered that the dirt around the exit pipe had not been properly compacted. Water was running through the dam around the outside of the pipe, washing more and more dirt away and threatening to sweep away the entire drain structure.
My dad and I quickly dug a diversionary channel to lower the water level and give us time to repack the dirt around the exit pipe. Within minutes we cut a small trench a foot wide through another part of the dam. It was an enormous mistake.
The water flowing through the trench was moving so fast that it began to erode the surrounding dirt. We immediately began shoveling dirt back into the channel to block the flow, but it was too late. The water was running too fast to be stopped.
As more and more dirt was swept away, the erosion accelerated. Within twenty minutes our small trench was four feet wide and ten feet deep. The dam was completely breached. The pond was nearly empty. And we felt like idiots.
Would you believe that I’ve repeated this mistake countless times since then? Well, I have.
Never again with dirt and water, but all too often with people and words.
A little irritation triggered a few impulsive words. No big deal; just letting someone know how I felt. But then words began to flow in both directions, faster and faster. The gap between us grew wider and wider.
And soon there was a breach in our relationship that took a lot of work to repair.
Proverbs 17:14 describes this age old scenario perfectly:
“The beginning of strife is like letting out water, so quit before a quarrel breaks out.”
The earlier you stop the flow of critical words—preferably before they even begin—the better. One way to do this is to develop the habit of filtering your words through the three levels of the SOG plan:
- Self-aware: What am I feeling right now? (Impatient, frustrated, defensive) Why? (I’m being criticized, I’m not getting what I want.) How do I typically react to these feelings? (My face and voice get stern, I speak harshly, I blame others)
- Other-aware: What do others seem to be feeling? (Fear, uncertainty, irritation) How might my reaction impact them? (Make them even more defensive or angry!) What interests do they have that I can meet? (To be heard, understood, respected)
- God-aware: How can I imitate God? (Be merciful and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love, Exod. 34:6). What has he promised to do for me? (To give me a new heart so I can control my tongue and love others, Phil. 2:13). What does he call me to do? (Say only what will benefit, encourage, and build others up, Eph. 4:29).
Thinking three dimensionally is not natural for most of us. But if you practice these skills long enough, they can become second nature, enabling you to take every thought, emotion, and action captive to Christ … and to guard your relationships from the impulsive words that used to cause so many breaches.
– Ken Sande
- In what situations or with which people are you most often provoked to speak impulsively? Why?
- Think back to the last time you breached a relationship with impulsive words. Imagine you could go back to that situation and handle it by applying the SOG plan, as outlined above. How would you answer the SOG questions?
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© 2013 Ken Sande
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