Advice for our Children... and Ourselves


by Fred Schippa - Managing Director, RISE Consulting Group, July 31, 2018

I have two amazing sons. As a parent, you can’t always trust your own judgement in these matters, being far from impartial, but when you hear it from lots of other people, it’s easier to make that claim with confidence. Also, as a father, and I don’t think it’s only me, I am capable of occasionally focusing on the things I did wrong with my kids, rather than the things I may have done right. Plus, I am blessed to have an amazing wife, who cares for, prays over and pours into our sons and has done so since before they were born (they are turning 20 next month). I’m certain her efforts had a far greater impact on their amazing-ness, but there is one piece of advice I gave them at a very early age and tried to reinforce regularly, through both words and my conduct. When I think of the men they have become today, I see the evidence that they took those words and actions to heart and I am blessed. It is as simple as it is profound, and I am sharing it with you today, since I believe with all my heart, it is one of the most important things we can all do to enjoy excellent relationships and success in life.

Even though my advice started as soon as they were able to form sentences, and it was originally presented as a “rule”, I have discovered it is a rule of which I constantly need to be reminded of, as I often forget. Interestingly, our children rarely need reminding, so I blame my parents; just kidding, sort of.

The advice is, before you say anything to someone else, ask yourself these three questions.

1. Is it TRUE?

2. Is it HELPFUL?

3. Is it KIND?

 If the answer to any of these questions is “no”, don’t say it. Period. 

I know that sounds kind of simple, and it is, but it is amazing how many words are tossed out without sufficient consideration for whether they meet the criteria or not. I’m not even talking about social media, where all pretense of manners, decency and politeness seem to vanish. I’m talking about everyday conversations exchanged between friends, family, co-workers and strangers. However, unlike Twitter feuds, flame wars and other arguments that occur in a public forum from people’s keyboards, I believe most of the time, we say things we shouldn’t because we simply didn’t pause to think; out of ignorance, rather than ill intent. Once they are said, unfortunately, they can only be forgiven not forgotten. However, we can be encouraged. If we train ourselves to employ this mental check-list, which works well for children and men since there are only three things to remember, we can learn and improve in this critical area.

The sequence of the questions is intentional, moving from the simplest filter to the more advanced and difficult. Now pay attention:

Is it TRUE?

Even the youngest child knows lying is wrong. It’s only as we grow up that we start to consider truth a bit more situational, debatable, or “nuanced” to borrow from our current political parlance. That is a slippery slope. If you ever find yourself saying something that isn’t true, you had better have a VERY GOOD REASON. Here are a few examples of where you might get a pass on this:

• Do these jeans make me look fat?

• Did you forget our anniversary is next week?

• Do you like the surprise dinner, I made from scratch, that took me all day to prepare?

• Are you guys planning a surprise party for me?

For the men reading this, the answers are NO, NO, YES and IT DEPENDS, DO YOU WANT ONE?

Outside of that limited set of exceptions, make sure something is true before you say it. One of my pet peeves is when I ask someone in a store if they have a particular item in the back room, since it isn’t on the shelf and they say, without conviction and avoiding eye contact, “Nope, it would be on the shelf if we had it”. If you’re not sure it’s true in the moment, just say so. 

A dilemma I sometimes experience is when I THINK something is true, but I’m not 100% certain. Rather than qualify my statement, I present something as fact. I may do this to minimize debate and strengthen my overall position, but it is quite risky and can lead to a loss of credibility, especially where your children or spouse are involved. Best to be certain of your facts before you say anything. If you made it through this question, you then must ask yourself… 


If something isn’t particularly helpful, does it really need to be said? As my children grew older, the question evolved into “Is it useful?” or “Is it necessary?”. They all arrive at the same point. Is there any point or value to saying it? The fact that something is true doesn’t always mean it needs to be said. I’m not saying we should be taciturn. Much of our daily conversation isn’t “necessary” and may serve no other point than to be pleasant and engaging. However, there are many occasions when we might say something that is particularly UN-helpful, which can be avoided. If someone has put on weight, we might be accurate in our assessment, but we might avoid remarking on it. Unless we have concerns about their health and/or are prepared to offer help in some way, we should probably remain silent. Gossiping, if it even makes it through the first question, should get knocked out at this one. As should just about any statement that starts out “You should have…..”. If it is too late to do anything about something that happened, we should think really hard about pointing it out to someone else. “You should have checked to make sure you had the tickets before we left the house”, isn’t particularly helpful. Maybe their hair-cut looks awful, but they likely already know that and don’t need to be reminded of it. I chuckle when people exclaim, “watch out!” immediately AFTER I trip. Why do they do that? Anyway, you get the idea. If you made it through the first two questions, now comes the challenging one….

Is it KIND?

Most of the time, this isn’t an issue. You just need to be aware of how WHAT you are saying, especially if it could be perceived as a criticism or complaint, might be taken. You need to pay particular attention to the timing. The “when” and “where” can have a profound impact on how your message comes across. Certain things shouldn’t be shared in front of other people. If there are too many distractions or insufficient time to have the discussion that might follow, table your comments until later.  Once you have the proper timing and setting, and if what you share is true, and needs to be said, you may STILL get in a heap of trouble. You must choose your words carefully and say them kindly. I relearn this lesson more often than I care to admit, but that’s okay. I’m getting better. Also, you shouldn’t chicken out either. If something is true and useful, you really owe it to the person to let them know. I believe anything can be communicated in a kind and loving way, with enough practice. Take your time and speak it silently (in your head) before you speak it through your lips. This simple step may eliminate many problems before they even start. Focus on the person you’re speaking to and consider their perspective, like what is going on in THEIR world at that time, and you should be okay. As my children grew older, we started using the word “edifying”, rather than “kind”. Edifying is defined as, “To instruct or benefit, especially morally or spiritually; uplift”.  

That final question is really the most important one. Shouldn’t it be our goal with all of our interactions with other people, our children, our family, our co-workers and even strangers to be edifying? To build them up, not tear them down. Just think how amazing it would be if we could stop all the negativity that bombards us daily as we are exposed to the news and popular culture.

I believe and declare, that if you share this advice with your family, and endeavor to do the same yourself, you will see a positive change in your relationships, your family, your work-life and your own spirit. 

That is the truth and it needed to be said. 

Until next month…..