Saturday, 10 August 2013

Mind Your Language

And the lesson today is from Ecclesiastes 3....................

WHAT? No, I know it's not a book I quote from very often, but a good quote is a good quote. In any case, I picked it up via Pete Seeger, but let's look at the original:

Ecc 3:1 To every [thing there is] a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:

Ecc 3:7 a time to keep silence, and a time to speak

I think one of the most difficult, and also one of the most important things we do in our daily lives is discern when to speak and when not to. I think the basis of most problems we have is in communication. As the only animal with a complex language, communication ought to be something we excel at, and in many ways we do, but in so many others we fail completely.

Which is better, to regret saying nothing, when we should have spoken up, or to regret what we said? Both can be disastrous. I have covered the former many names, in discussions on bullying, today I wish to concentrate on the latter.

My grandmother, and possibly yours too, advised something along the lines of "if you have nothing nice to say, say nothing". It's generally pretty good advice. The meaning behind it is, if you have a judgement in mind, a negative thought, even if you are solicited for your opinion, it is usually better to keep it to yourself. It really doesn't matter if you are right, or if it seems "justified", the chances are it will do more harm than good.

We all have to decide what to say, frequently. It is my considered opinion that many times we simply FORGET that we have a choice. Nobody is forcing these words out of us. No. Not even if they are asking a direct question. We still have the choice to say nothing, or at the very least to say less.

It is all a question of being mindful.

What is a mind? After taking a  Philosophy course earlier this year, I still cannot give you a definition of that, in fact it's less clear now than before I studied it. But it is clear that we all have one, and we all fail to use it sometimes. Words that come out of our mouths that haven't spent long enough going through the filters in our mind, can sometimes lead to problems. It is vital that we think before we speak. Or as my husband says "engage brain before opening gob."

And he should know. As a middle-aged Englishman he's a perfect example of sectors of the population who forget to think before they speak. He's never been the most tactful man, and in fact it can be his straight-talking that is his appeal. When you need a snappy remark, he's your man. He's sharp, he's funny, and he's not politically correct. You can admire that. Unfortunately, as with most people admired for their quick wit and chutzpah, he sometimes gets it very wrong.

So, he and I have discussed this many times. I have asked him, in particular, why sometimes he says things he KNOWS he is going to regret later, and he says "I don't know." And this is the truth.

So it is quite wryly that he offers the advice "engage brain before opening gob," because he knows only too well, what trouble you can get yourself into when you don't.

It is the absolute best advice. If we all took it, all of the time we'd all be better off, so why don't we?

Well, the usual reason is irritation. Not as far gone as anger, perhaps, but let's say our patience is worn thin. It could be from repetition of an annoyance.

These are, actually, the times we are mostly likely to something we regret. It may or may not even be true. Sometimes irritated people say things they don't even mean, really quite ridiculous things. But dammit, once it's out, it's out. There's no getting that genie back into the bottle. When we are impatient, tired, in pain, or actually hopping mad, that's when, more than at normal times, we need to count to ten before a word is spoken.

And if it's going to be published, then it's even more important. Now, it's not only going to be remembered, it's on record. It can be referred back to.

So, even if you forgive somebody for an outburst in emotional extremis, can you forgive something said calmly, archived online?

For that reason, engaging brain before hitting send is the issue. It is a much slower process. I think we can reasonably conclude that everyone who ever puts fingers to keyboard and rattles off a negative thought, has multiple opportunities to stop, think, edit, re-word, and finally delete, rather than putting that negativity out into the world.

There is no excuse. It's not good saying "I spoke in anger." That is no defence.

And if you are not even angry?

I have been visiting the forums at Etsy recently. I learn useful tips, and I also offer advice. I give back help I've received. The whole point of advice is to be positive, and most of it is. It's quite a nice atmosphere. In fact you can even feel the tongue-biting going on, when a new shop opens, the owner seeks advice, and people are incredibly positive about the items being offered. Because sometimes it's crap.

But this is a community of artists. And artists, on the whole don't dismiss something as crap, because in art there is no crap, there are only different tastes, and different experience levels. And, because they are good people, and treat others as they wish to be treated, they don't judged, lest they be judged (eh up, Matthew 7:1, a second quote from that book!).

As a pragmatist, I actually find this a bit daft. Encouraging people who I'd far rather whisper "actually dear, you can't......." goes against the honest part of me. But the other part of me prefers kindness, and leaves it alone.

So it goes back to that other old saying "I'd rather be happy than right" (Douglas Adams, or possibly Buddha, you choose), and I choose often not to judge, or to correct someone, because life's too short for negativity. I like to shrug things off and smile, and enjoy the sunshine and flowers.

Oh don't get me wrong, I enjoy a good intellectual debate, but there are times when it just doesn't matter, when walking away from an argument is not only the best choice all round, it is a choice that suits me, because it avoids messing with my groove.

So, I confess I'm disheartened, and possibly even a little bemused by those who enjoy the negativity. Who relish in the thought of "that told him!" and who delight in upsetting someone and then claiming honesty as their motivation. As I said right at the start, there are times we should not remain silent, but it's all a question of intent. If there is a twisted pleasure in speaking out, when it is not to right some great wrong, when it is inappropriate, when it is only to harm, to wound, to discomfort, or to shock for the sake of it, then I cannot excuse it. I won't excuse it. Now is the time for me to speak out, in fact.

Because unsolicited criticism isn't about being helpful or honest, no, it isn't. It's called an insult. When you insult somebody you might as well punch them. Same thing. An unprovoked attack.

My last quote today is one that I have changed. Completely. Because the original is wrong.

Sticks and stones may break my bones,
They'll set, the pain will go, and my body will return to normal
But names will stick in my head forever.

Grab a plate and throw it on the ground
             -Ok, done.
Did it break?
Now say sorry to it.
Did it go back to the way it was before?
Do you understand?


  1. Excellent philosophy but practical or applicable? Sadly, not a hockey puck's chance... The murder statistics, wars and civil unrest are proof positive that engaging brain before operating gob or keyboard is not something that is performed with anything even remotely resembling standard practice.

  2. Oh I know. LOL. I'm under no delusions that humans, individually or collectively have ANY plans to change.

  3. This is why mindfulness is so important. We "have" a brain, but goodness knows we fail to apply it consistently. If we did, there would definitely be less difficulty, less extremes and maybe a bit more self-control. --And a lot of it is choice-driven. I've learned (maybe the hard way?) that in order to balance one's own existence takes that magical three (heart, mind, spirit) and if any of them are missing, trouble exists.

    Intention is definitely a key aspect of using any word(s)and we do have some major failure(s) in what we cause to happen. Goodness knows, what we "ought" or "need" to do and what we "want" to do are entirely different avenues. We can be the cause of our own suffering because of the "mindless" choices we make. Shame on us. ;) ~ Blessings!