Foot-in-Mouth Disease

We are all guilty of it, myself included. For some of us, it’s an incurable disease. All of us are eager to hear ourselves talk. We love the sound of our own voices, especially when we think we sound wise. Where did this disgusting level of overconfidence come from? Did someone tell us at one time that we were the Dalai Llama? Or did we just convince ourselves that based on our own experiences, we know everything there is to know about everything, and therefore everyone else needs to know what we know?

Before you’re about to weigh in on a subject, or offer advice you think is invaluable, feel free to borrow the following visual cues:

WARNING! WARNING! WARNING!

PROCEED WITH EXTREME CAUTION!

YOU ARE NOT GOD. REPEAT: YOU. ARE. NOT. GOD.

In fact, it might be beneficial to simply buffer any statement you make with, “You know, I really don’t know anything about anything, so feel free to dispose the following bit of potential useless information the same as you would dog crap.”

Or you could just keep your mouth shut unless you’re about to, say, inform someone that they are on fire. You will find 99.9% of the time, they are not. What you thought was fire was actually the glow of a cell phone in their pocket, and telling them to stop, drop, and roll just made them look silly and broke their cell phone. And you look like an idiot.

In case you are the type that require examples of this behavior for which you are being forewarned, here are some real-life zingers.

When I was a young, fresh-faced teenager, people would ask me about my goals. At the time, I was dating and wanting to get married eventually. This was the usual response:

“Oh, you should wait until you’re at least 25 or 30.”
“Are you sure? Don’t you want to <insert activity here>  first?”
“I wouldn’t get married if I were you.”

What if I told them I had planned to stay single for the rest of my life? Would it be appropriate to then say, “Oh, no! You should definitely get married!”?

Why not instead be supportive? Or if you really find that you can’t be supportive because you have it in your head that you know better (and I am raising my eyebrow at you), just say nothing at all?

We like to think we know better, that we can see into a person’s future, when really all we are looking at is our own past. The two rarely correlate.

Another more recent example:

Someone I had just met asked me if I had any children. I took the easy way out and responded “No.”

“Oh, that’s good. Don’t have kids. You’re better off.”

After I suppressed the urge to slap this individual, I decided this might be a more painful way to teach her a lesson: “You know what? The reason I don’t have children is because my son died after he was born. I really miss him. And I would love to have more children.”

That time-honored adage of “think before you speak” never goes out of style. But how many of us really know what it means? What thought process should actually take place?

Here are some good questions to ask yourself when you feel the need to speak up:

  • Do I know all the facts?
  • Is it really necessary for me to say anything at all?
  • Is there a possibility I might offend or hurt the other party?
  • How much do I know about this person? Can I guess their potential response?
  • Are they in an emotional situation?
  • Should I just listen instead and show my support that way?

The truth is we are all facing our own unique set of circumstances. We are all individuals. What works like clockwork for us may not work for someone else. Therefore, sometimes it is best to recognize our own fallibility and humbly take the road of Words Unsaid. Yes, it is hard to swallow our own so-called “wisdom,” especially when we think our beloved voice sounds beautiful and wise. But oftentimes, it doesn’t. It’s just noise.

That being said,

“You know, I really don’t know anything about anything, so feel free to dispose the latter bit of potential useless information the same as you would dog crap.”

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