“I guess I’m realizing that the list of things I would do to make someone laugh is maybe just a little bit too short,” I said, only seconds after gushing about yet another instance where I said too much – just to get a giggle out of a group of co-workers huddled around a cubicle.
This was the third Friday in a row where I’d had this sort of exchange with my ever-patient, abundantly-graceful boyfriend, Tyler. Or maybe it was the fourth Friday. Stories that’d typically flowed as you’ll-never-guess-what-happened-today-at-the-office type exchanges were recently morphing into oh-my-gosh-did-you-really-say-that-to-your-boss confessions. I had this lingering suspicion that Tyler might correct me this time around, but instead, he listened quietly and prompted me gently with questions.
“Do you think they know you were kidding?” he asked.
“I mean, I’m sure they did. I hope they did.” I said, pausing. “Wait, do you think they did?”
Before he could even respond, I was filled with an anxious remorse and that foot-in-mouth feeling took over my psyche.
And all of the sudden, I was choking on my big toe.
Growing up, I was lovingly told (more than once) at the dinner table (usually after one of my sisters stormed off over some totally-not-funny-to-them comment I made) that I just didn’t know when to stop or that I didn’t think before I opened my mouth.
I can stand here before you twenty years later and say that that statement is probably just as true now as it was then. Only this time, I’m old enough to be unclaimable as a tax dependent and for my dad to say, “You have got to learn to kill a spider without crying, Diana.”
I don’t say any of this to shirk off responsibility for my words. I firmly and immovably believe that our words not only have the power to tear people down,
but that they also hold within them a force that can soften the hardest of hearts, illuminate the darkest hallways of our minds and breathe life into lungs that’ve had life knock the wind out of them.
It is because of this that I believe – more than anything – that we should choose our words carefully. And I struggle with this ALL THE TIME. But through self-examination (read: excessive journaling and collaborative “WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME?!?” sessions with trusted friends and my sweet mama), I’ve learned that my mouth gets me in trouble most at three specific times. Being aware of the three times when I am most susceptible to putting my foot in my mouth hasn’t solved the problem, but it’s put me on the path toward less crow-eating and, “I’m sorry for saying that,” type conversations. My future is looking kind of bright, you guys!
WHEN I AM TRYING TO MAKE SOMEONE LAUGH.
It seems as though we’ve already covered this, but let’s just recap quickly: sometimes, I lose my filter when I know I can win a good belly laugh in the conversation. I don’t know what it is, but I kind of feel like I am the epitome of that over-Instagram’d W. Somerset Maugham quote, “She loved three things: a joke, a glass of wine, and a handsome man.”
I love to laugh. But more so than that, I love to make other people laugh. Because of that, my don’t-say-that radar malfunctions nine times out of ten. Often times, I’ll leave a conversation feeling like I said too much or misrepresented myself by cracking a joke, taking a jab at someone or being maddeningly sarcastic.
WHEN I AM HURT BY WHAT SOMEONE SAID.
Perhaps this is the most natural of the three listed instances, but for some reason, I feel like I may be extra cutting in these scenarios. First, I must disclaim that this is not an “every single time” offense. There are certainly times where I am deeply offended by what someone said and I can brush it off with no problem. But, sister, if you catch me on the right (read: wrong) day? If the stars are aligned just perfectly and you’ve crossed me at a point where I’ve had it up to my eyeballs and just want to crawl into bed with a King Size package of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and a New Girl marathon? There’s no telling what words will push their way through my lips.
The good news about these sorts of word vomit moments is that they are almost immediately followed with an emphatic, “Oh my gosh! I am so sorry for saying that!” It’s almost as if the last syllable of the word, “jerkface” leaves my tongue and I’m instantly on to the apology portion of the breakdown. The bad news? Once the word “jerkface” leaves my tongue, the damage is already done, so it’d really be best if I could dog train myself to quit while I was ahead.
WHEN I AM OVERWHELMED OR TIRED.
I’ve always joked with my mom about how the most terrifying thing to me about parenting is the loss of sleep. From an early age, I was one of those nine-hours-of-sleep requiring types. I wasn’t really ever the six-year old who woke up early on her own accord to watch cartoons quietly at seven in the morning before her parents woke up. And while I’m not much of a late-sleeper these days, if I don’t go to bed early and get a solid eight hours of sleep, I’m pretty much useless the next day. (Note: I can get by in survival mode on six hours, but you really want to try and avoid me at all costs.)
My mom can always tell when I’m stressed. She says when we talk and I’m under pressure or feeling overwhelmed or lacking sleep, I’m sometimes short with her, a little bit whiney and just kind of cranky and unpleasant. It’s in these moments when I’m vulnerable to verbally snap, “putting someone in their place” when I just don’t want to be bothered by their cheeriness.
While being aware of my tendencies hasn’t cured me of my blabber-mouth syndrome, it’s certainly helped me put certain checks and balances in place so I can ensure I’m doing all I can to be careful with my words. The process of becoming aware of these patterns, as well as recognizing a need for change has been both humbling and refining, but it’s a process that I am overjoyed to enter into as I seek to be intentional and graceful with my words.
Have you noticed patterns surrounding when you’re most likely to hurt someone with your words?How can you work to not hide behind these tendencies but, instead, put checks in place to ensure you are careful with your words and using them to speak life?
Photo: Death to the Stock Photo