Once upon a time, perhaps at February Dinner Club, I confessed that my New Year’s resolution this year was to occasionally keep my mouth shut.
Needless to say, some folks were shocked.
These people, who generally think I speak whatever is on my mind, would be astonished if they knew how much I filter. Sure, sometimes the mouth works faster than the brain, but I really do reject a lot of comments because I don’t want to insult people or make a social situation unpleasant.
I did have someone try to counsel me, to tell me I should never feel afraid to speak my truth or reveal what I think.
Really? I have a mother that will tell someone at church that she’s too warm and to go turn the furnace down. And that someone will jump up and go do it, no questions asked. This is after the service started. You can’t make this stuff up–I witnessed it. (Which means yes, I have been inside a church in this millennium.)
Speaking my mind is not my problem.
I have a couple of reasons for this resolution.
1. Sometimes I have an opinion and really, I shouldn’t. I’m not involved, my input isn’t going to solve anything, and there’s a distinct possibility I don’t know what I’m talking about. But if someone turns to me and says, “What do you think?”, it’s like dropping a big fat worm in front of a starving fish. So I don’t always need to express my uninformed opinion.
2. You learn more from other people if you shut your yap and let them talk. It doesn’t matter if you’re an officer of the law questioning a suspect (yes, I read a lot of mysteries), or just conversing with a stranger at a party. Shut up. Let them talk. Ask a question because you want to know what their answer is, not so you can dazzle them with your innate brilliance when you give them YOUR answer to the question.
3. Taking a few seconds to marshal your thoughts before you answer a question reduces your chances of saying something stupid. I learned this from my brother, who almost always thinks before he speaks. (Hey, there’s one in every family. The rest of us chatter like magpies, all at the same time.) If you don’t blurt, you have time to consider your options. Is the person just being polite? Do they have another agenda? Is your first answer necessarily the best?
I have a great example of this last one. On an overnight field trip with Thing 2’s seventh grade class, someone in my group of 10 or so kids asked, “Why do you want us to call you Miss MB?” I launched into my standard response, that my Girl Scouts always called me Miss MB, and if they called me Mrs. Partlow, I would think they were talking to my mother. A couple of beats of silence rolled by. Then it dawned on me. I said, “That didn’t answer your question. My name is MB–I go by my initials.” That was the answer they were looking for.
4. Not everyone finds the sound of my voice as enchanting as I do. It’s perfectly fine for me to take part in a conversation by listening to what others have to say. The world does not, sadly, revolve around me. In my heart of hearts I know it should, but it doesn’t.
5. I have occasional momentary lapses where I sound like an asshole. Hey, everybody says the wrong thing now and then. I like to think I recognize and apologize when I inadvertently make a verbal faux pas. I’m not ashamed to admit a mistake. But I’d really rather not make the mistake in the first place. And zipping the lip can help.
It’s April, and I would say that thus far, I’ve had moderate success. But there’s a whole lot of 2013 left for me to stick my foot in my mouth.