Every time I go to get my oil changed, the mechanic brings out the air filter in my car for all to see. He shows me how dirty it is. He tells me I should change it. I don't know whether or not to trust him, and I think that he's probably charging too much to replace it, so I tell him that I'll ask my husband about it.
How's your filter? You know, the one that is in between your head and your mouth?
Very young children have no filter. That is why you often hear them saying loudly, "Mommy, why does that baby have a bandaid on her eye? What's wrong with it?" or "Look, that man doesn't have an arm!" I'm not sure that these are bad things. They are usually making accurate statements, backed with curiosity, which is generally something to be encouraged. They just need a little tact.
They get a little older, and still haven't mastered the full use of the filter. We bought a birthday gift for my daughter's friend, James Herriot's Treasury for Children. I had asked Amanda if she liked it, and she said that she loved it. She already had one, but now she and her sister could each have their own, and they wouldn't have to fight over it. Now that's honesty (because this friend is a wonderful and generous big sister), but no filter. And maybe no tact, either. I actually find the honesty refreshing, and I am beginning to wonder if much of our "tact" is just an excuse to lie--little, white ones--but lies nonetheless. I mean, how many of us answer "no" to the question on the other end of the phone, "Were you sleeping? Did I wake you up?" in the name of tact?
In our middle years, I think we fully understand the filter. We don't always use it. Sometimes circumstances or bad moods or selfishness rip a hole in it. Hopefully we realize the need for a replacement part when it seems to be clogged or overpowered by something else, because we also understand that words hurt. The filter also acts as a cushion.
Ah, the late years. Years of filtering for so long earns you the right to say just what you want. Fortunately failing health--mental and physical--causes those around you to give grace. Maybe you have earned it. I know that I choose not to argue with my grandmother. She may be wrong, but she's not going to give up, and I can quietly be right without arguing and getting us both worked up. The loss of filter comes out in unpleasant ways, such as being overly critical to people who are in the service industry when a line is too long, or a meal isn't properly served, but I have also experienced the compliments from the older generation that come out without a filter. They probably lack tact (No thoughts of "What will the others think if I say that I always thought that she was the prettiest one"), but they come from the heart.
Honesty, with a good strong filter installed by the Master Mechanic, probably is the best policy. If it's mean, selfish, thoughtless, inconsiderate, rude or hateful that holy filter will keep it in my head, and out of my mouth. If I keep going for regular tune-ups, the filter might even start to work between my heart and my head as well.
I Corinthians 13: 4 - 7
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude. It is not self-seeking, it is not easily-angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.