There is a story told in a book called “100 Lessons in Diversity” written by Stanley Bongwe, of a white man who arrived at the reception area of a company he was visiting. One of the Black African ladies on the floor took one glance at this man and exclaimed, with her right hand finger held across her slightly open mouth and her eyes wide open, to the other cleaning colleagues: “Awu! Waze wamubi lomlungu wema!" (Oh my goodness, I’ve never seen such an ugly White person in my entire life!). The other ladies concurred that he was indeed a shocking sight. The man was collected from the reception waiting area, and he proceeded to the upper floor meeting rooms for his meeting with a representative of the company. On his way out after concluding his business at the offices, he found the cleaning ladies still hovering around the reception area, chit-chatting among themselves and with the receptionist, gently pushing around their brooms, water buckets and mops.
The man looked straight at the one that had earlier made the comment about him being ugly and said, "Usale kahle weNtombenhle, mina sengiyahamba, (Goodbye, Pretty Lady, and may you please stay well). And he said this in perfect isiZulu. One can only imagine how embarrassed this lady must have been. The things you say about others in their absence, would you repeat them in their presence? The lady was speaking in the man’s physical presence but assuming that he was 'absent'. She had assumed that he would not understand isiZulu. But she was wrong.
The lesson for all of us is that we must learn to speak about others in their absence as though they were present. In that way we will develop into becoming people that are living in the ‘light’. We will grow to respect and love others in spite of their shortcomings, looks, body size, race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, etc. King David and James, the brother of Jesus, says this about the tongue Psalm 19:14 May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer. James 3:5,6,9-10 The tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell….With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. May God strengthen us as we strive to become more and more like Jesus.