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In the movie “Mr. Holmes,” there is a scene with the now aged Holmes, his housekeeper Mrs. Munro, and her young son, Roger, where all are swept up in a conversation that becomes heated.
At one point, Roger makes a couple of nasty comments about his mother, which cause her to leave the room in embarrassment. At Holmes’ direction, Roger goes and apologizes to his mother by saying, “I shouldn’t have said what I said.” His mother replies, “Lesson there then. Don’t say everything you think.”
Don’t say everything you think. These are wise words that can be difficult to follow. From direct communication or emails to texts or online posts and social media, the desire to comment or respond to another person’s words or action – that we view as being wrong, unjust, or incredibly stupid – is strong. Yet doing so may not be the most prudent thing to do. Ramifications can include not only embarrassment or the destruction of relationships, but also missed opportunities or being fired from your job.
I am as guilty as anyone for not thinking before I speak (or type). However, I have been trying to be more mindful of what I say or write BEFORE I do so, which gives what I DO say – if I choose to say anything at all – more strength. And what has helped me be more mindful are a series of questions whose originator is unknown (some say Socrates; others say Buddha).
These four questions should make you think before you speak and are especially useful to answer prior to making a negative or snarky remark, either in person or online.
Question 1) Is it true?
No matter how strongly you feel about something, your truth may not be true for someone else. Remember that your truth does not necessarily equal fact. Oftentimes, what we perceive to be a fact is actually just our opinion or the opinion of someone else who may have a hidden agenda.
Additionally, oftentimes there are reasons why another says or does something of which you are unaware, and even though you may BELIEVE that person is in error, when you make a snap judgement followed by a quick retort, you speak without all the facts. Therefore, you may be in error.
Question 2) Is it kind?
When someone makes a cutting remark to you or about you, I’m sure that you find it’s not pleasant. Therefore, doing the same to another person elicits the same feeling in them. Even a sarcastic remark, while possibly humorous to some, leaves its mark on its victim. In fact, one of the original definitions of the word sarcasm includes “to tear flesh.” Is there amusement in the tearing of flesh?
Rare is the caustic remark that can pass question two. However, should you be able to circumvent (or overlook) this question, then move to…
Question 3) Is it necessary?
On a larger scale, when a change is necessary, collective voices can play a key role; however, any change is always impeded when those voices are primarily mean and biting.
On a more personal note, while there may be times when you feel you must speak, doing so in an insensitive way seldom changes another’s opinion, action or beliefs. It may make you momentarily feel better or superior, but whom does that serve?
In short, the “is it necessary” question is about asking yourself whether what you say will improve a situation … or result in the reverse.
This last question was not part of the original recipe, yet it holds tremendous weight.
Question 4) Does it improve the silence?
Even in the heat of an argument, there is ALWAYS a moment of space, before you speak. There is ALWAYS a moment of space, before you hit the “enter” or “send” button. That moment – that tiny fraction of a second – is filled with silence. You may choose to override that moment, but still, it’s there.
A callous or caustic comment never improves upon any silence. To be silent shows control and wisdom. As Charles de Gaulle once said, “Silence is the ultimate weapon of power.”
I know that by asking myself these questions before I decide to respond to someone or comment online, that I say less – which can be really tough to do when you see something on social media or the news with which you disagree. However, like Roger in the movie, I know that it’s not pleasant saying to myself (or to someone else), “I shouldn’t have said what I said.” And although I’m not perfect, it has taken me decades to understand that I don’t need to say everything I think.
Copyright: You can reprint or repost this to your own blog or website but you must include the following: ©2016 Bob Garner. Used by Permission. Originally posted on Bobgarneronline.com