When a person receives stimulating news of any sort, and especially news of an agitating, frustrating, or hurtful sort, there is an immediate flare-up of emotion that accompanies the news. Like a match flame that flares upon striking, but then subsides within a few seconds, these emotions tend to immediately surge before subsiding to a slower, steadier burn. Some studies have quantified this dynamic and assert that there is usually an immediate six-second emotional reaction to bad news.
Unfortunately, rather than waiting for the initial flare-up to subside before responding, many people react to the distressing news while they are still in the middle of the emotional flare up and they end up saying or doing things that they regret. It would be far wiser and less regrettable to let the emotional wave pass and then respond from a steadier, more thoughtful state.
Granted, this is easier said than done when waves of hurt or offended feelings are washing over us, but we should still try. When people speak inside those initial six seconds, they often say hurtful, defensive things, or they misrepresent themselves, saying things that aren’t reflective of how they actually feel.
It would be much better for us to pause and sit in six seconds of awkward silence before responding. As the ancient Latin writer, Publilius Syrus, said, “I often regret that I have spoken; never that I have been silent.”
Let’s try it. Let’s follow Scripture’s admonition, “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires” (James 1:19-20). Let’s be thoughtful and wise, not giving vent to anger in ways that could come back to hurt us.
“If you have been foolish in exalting yourself or if you have plotted evil, put your hand on your mouth.” (Proverbs 30:32 NASB)