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“A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver” (The Book of Proverbs).
IT IS NOT ENOUGH TO DO THE RIGHT THING; THE RIGHT THING MUST BE DONE IN THE RIGHT WAY. Even when we’re sure we’re doing what is right, we must consider doing it appropriately. If an action is permissible from the strict standpoint of right and wrong, it still may not fit very well or be suitable for a particular person, place, or occasion. If not, a more appropriate action should be sought.
In these days of personal independence and freedom, little thought is given to the question of appropriateness. For many of us, the “legal” question is all that matters: “If you can’t show me where it is inherently wrong to do what I want to do, then I’m going to do it.” And if someone should say, “Yes, but what you’re doing is not fitting or suitable,” we would probably reply, “What is ‘fitting’ is totally subjective, so don’t bother me with that.” We operate right up to the limit of the law, demanding the right to do anything the law allows.
But the strict rules of right and wrong can never tell us all we need to know about whether we should engage in a specific action or not. Consider, for example, the simple decision about what to wear to a particular event or occasion. Perhaps you are considering wearing something that might be considered unsuitable. Questions like Is this against the rules? and Would I be punished for wearing this? will only get you so far. At some point, you would need to ask Is this suitable for a person with values and principles like mine? and Will this be beneficial to others? and Will this help or hurt the credibility that I want to have with those who are important to me? The fact is, those who never raise the question of appropriateness are thinking of no one but themselves.
However important appropriateness is in general, it is especially important in our words. “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver.” And let’s face it: with our words, timing is crucial.
So if we seek to give good gifts to those around us, we would do well to consider the question of appropriateness, and I’m not just talking about physical gifts. In one sense, everything we do is a gift to those around us. So are we doing things that are suitable and fitting? Are we giving appropriate gifts to those who have contact with us?
“The excellence of a gift lies in its appropriateness rather than its value” (Charles Dudley Warner).