Speak Now or Forever Hold Your Peace

“SPEAK NOW…” was inserted in the Christian wedding ritual in the 16th century to prevent witnesses from later contaminating a marriage. Today the clause is familiar enough that it is given little thought. But its implications are truly profound and useful outside of a marriage.

My client Tom was conned in a shady business deal. “My friend Anthony told me that if I invested in this company, where he knew the owners, I would triple my money. Not only did the company go bankrupt, but I found out that Anthony got paid for getting me to invest,” I recall he said. Now when Tom sees Anthony pitching others about a great investment, according to the “speak now” principle, Tom should warn them about his experiences with Anthony. If we see someone we know getting into a relationship with a sleazeball, we have an obligation to share information. And this applies to protecting strangers too.

Sheila was verbally abused by Carl during their relationship and then witnessed him beginning an abusive relationship with Lois. Sheila should say, “I went out with Carl for months. It ended because he became abusive when he was drunk.” Given the information, it then becomes Lois’s choice to do what she will with it. Sheila is not required to give an evaluation of Carl, but simply the relevant information.

That is not as easy as it sounds—many are taught “mind your own business” and “don’t get involved.” Speaking up can also sometimes cause the end of a relationship regardless of how noble the intentions. Moreover, even when we give information, we can mislead because we have misinterpreted a situation or we lack the total picture.

The “forever hold your peace” part of the wedding ritual is also profound. Once a couple is married, bad-mouthing can be nothing but destructive. Expressing negative feelings towards the bride or groom in public can be particularly harmful. This rule applies to a wide variety of situations. What do you do if you know the partner of a friend is having an affair? Do you say something? No, you hold your peace. I am reminded of when Roberta was salaciously told by a “friend” that she saw Roberta’s husband coming out of a motel. Shocking, right? Except that Roberta’s husband was the motel owner and coming and going from the rooms was a routine part of his job. That friendship ended.

We all know people we dislike. Our social alliances are something similar to individual food tastes; different people like different things. Therefore, we should not impose our negative opinions of individuals to people who know them mutually because that may contaminate friendships—and/or make us seem like busybodies and complainers.

Perhaps our Founding Fathers off er a positive example for the current political climate? After acrimonious debate, the U.S. Constitution was ratified in 1787. The disagreements were so intense that Rhode Island refused to attend, and some delegates, including George Mason, who wanted a bill of rights, left without signing. However, even fervent anti-federalists in the states that opposed the Constitution felt that once it was the law of the land they had a responsibility to make it succeed. I can’t help applying that standard to the recent attempts by Congress to sabotage the Affordable Care Act. They spoke, it was passed, now those on the opposing side should “forever hold their peace” and help it succeed.