‘Don’t you trust me?’
I stopped and thought. How do I respond to that? I can either say yes, of course I trust you, in which case they’ll carry on doing what they’re doing, which I’m not comfortable with in case it causes an accident (nothing major, just could be messy). On the other hand, if I persist with my request that they stop, is that confirming that I don’t trust them? What effect will that have on our relationship?
In the end I came up with a fairly limp response that tried to walk the ‘Yes I trust you; I just don’t see the point of taking unnecessary risks’ line. Perhaps a little lame, but it was the best I could come up with at the time.
This question, ‘Don’t you trust me?’ is actually very manipulative. In effect, what it’s saying is, ‘You have a choice. If you want me to stop, you don’t trust me and that will have an adverse effect on our relationship. I know you don’t want that, so you’re left with the option of letting me have my own way.’
In the end I challenged the person concerned. To be honest, the whole thing was very light-hearted and a bit of fun, and it was about something so trivial I can’t even remember now what it was. I don’t think they even realised they were being manipulative. I have a very good relationship with them, so we were able to keep it light, but it raised in my mind an important thought: how often do we use our words to manipulate situations to our advantage – and how often do we do it without consciously acknowledging that we’re doing it?
Words are very powerful. We can use them to build up or to tear down. A kind word goes a long way, and can make us feel good for the rest of the day. On the other hand, words can destroy relationships if they are used carelessly, and can damage people. We can all quote the ditty ‘Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.’ But this is not true. Words can do much damage, and the scars they leave often last a lot longer than physical scars,.
James tells us that ‘no human being can tame the tongue’ (James 3:8). Yes, our mouths run away with us at times. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve wished I could put words that I’ve spoken back into my mouth, but it’s too late; they’re out there, and can never be unsaid.
I know I’m guilty of using words to manipulate. My prayer is that God will change me from the inside, and that what bubbles up naturally will be good, wholesome and encouraging. The first step is to be aware of what our words have the potential to do – for good and for bad – and to think twice before we open our mouths. And we need to acknowledge when we get it wrong, and do what we can to undo any damage!
So next time someone asks us, ‘Don’t you trust me?’, or next time we’re tempted to use our words to manipulate a situation, let’s stop and think. Let’s take control of our tongues and our words, and not allow them to control us and our relationships.