St. Paul writes: “Contend not in words, for it is to no profit, but to the subversion of the hearers.” (2 Tm 2:14)
Concerning this perennial bane of social interaction, Padre Quadrupani remarks: “Disputes, sarcasm, bitter language, and intolerance for dissenting opinions, are the scourges of conversation.” In the following, he addresses the question of what to do when a conversation turns uncharitable.
“If you hear some evil spoken of your neighbor do not immediately become alarmed, as the matter may be true and quite public without your having been aware of it. Should you be quite certain that there is calumny or slander in the report, either because the evil told was false or exaggerated or because it was not publicly known, then, according to the place, the circumstances and your relations towards those present, say with moderation what appears most fitting to justify or excuse your neighbor. Or you may try to turn the conversation into other channels, or simply be content to show your disapprobation by an expressive silence.” He reminds us: “Remember, for the peace of your conscience, that one does not share in the sin of slander unless he give some mark of approbation or encouragement to the person who is guilty of it.”
“As to the guilty, those who may do harm either through the scandal of their example or the wickedness of their doctrines, it is right that they should be shunned and openly denounced. ‘To cry out wolf, wolf,’ says Saint Francis de Sales, ‘is kindness to the sheep.'”
“The regard we owe our neighbor does not bind us to a politeness that might be construed as an approval or encouragement of his vicious habits. Hence if it happen that you hear an equivocal jest, a witticism slurring at religion or morals, or anything else that really offends against propriety, be careful not to give, through cowardice and in spite of your conscience, any mark of approbation, were it only by one of those half smiles that are often accorded unwillingly and afterwards regretted. Flattery, even in the eyes of the world, is one of the most debasing of falsehoods. Not even in the presence of the greatest earthly dignitaries, will an honest, upright man sanction with his mouth that which he condemns in his heart. He who sacrifices to vice the rights of truth not only acts unlike a Christian, but renders himself unworthy the name of man.”
Quotations from Carlo Giuseppe Quadrupani, Light and Peace: Instructions for Devout Souls to Dispel Their Doubts and Allay Their Fears (St. Louis: B. Herder, 1898).