So here’s a little food for thought.. I overthink. I can assume that at least some of you reading this can relate.
You start by thinking about saying something, wondering if you should say it, and worrying about what might happen if you do or do not say it. Sometimes, you even ask on whether to say it.
My ice cream is missing. Should I ask my housemate if he ate it? If I do and he hasn’t he might get mad that I asked. But if I don’t and he has eaten it then I won’t get my ice cream replaced or worse, he might think I just don’t notice these things and start eating my chips as well!
Then, there’s how you say it. Do you say something directly? Indirectly? Do you make it about yourself or about the other person? What emphasis do you put on which words, thoughts or ideas?
If I ask “did you eat it?” it sounds accusatory, but if I say “It’s missing, have you seen it?” it doesn’t sound very direct and he might not think I’m mad. Do I ask “have YOU eaten my ice cream?” or “Have you eaten my ICE CREAM?” or “have you eaten MY ice cream?” .. Oh no that last one sounds rude and a bit selfish. He might have just thought it was his! I don’t normally buy this ice cream and he quite often buys it.
Oh Gosh, now you’ve said it. What will the response be? Shoud you have said it? What would have happened if you had not said it, or if you had said it differently? Maybe you should have thought about it a little bit more …
Perhaps if I had just mentioned it was missing.. wait, which word did I emphasise? I forgot! I know we’ve just had the conversation and it went okay but maybe he thinks I am rude but didn’t say anything… perhaps should have spent more time thinking before I spoke..
Then something occurred to me.
We think a lot before we say things. And we still manage to say the wrong thing. Our parents warned us about this and we STILL can’t get it right. I’ve spent so long thinking about the best way to get across what I mean, in a way which is clear, concise, and the least offensive it can be. I’ve thought about my opinion, and whether that REALLY is my opinion, because I don’t want to give the wrong impression or have to take it back. I’ve tried to think about the people around me – how might they interpret what I am saying? Will they understand? Should I put it in a way in which they will understand? I’ve thought about my choice of wording. How long my announcement will be. How I convey the event in the fairest possible way, while still retaining the point I am trying to make. I’ve thought about how I stand when I say it, and if I should say it before or after dinner. I’ve thought about saying it quickly, saying it slowly, and I’ve definitely been over it again and again once I’ve said it because no matter how much I think before I speak it doesn’t seem to make a difference.
But has anyone thought about what adults really mean when they tell their children to “think before you speak”?
One thought crossed my mind – they’re not asking you to convey your opinion in a way which is fairer, less biased, and more understandable to those who aren’t familiar with the terms you are using. They’re not asking you if you have used the correct tense “I ate it/I had eaten it/I had ate it” (please don’t use the last one as an adult). They’re not asking if the way you present what you have to say is well thought through or not.
They’re asking if your opinion, your question, or your point is socially acceptable.
They’re not asking you to think about the phrase “I wouldn’t wear a thong mummy, who wants a string up their arse?” because people around you might not know what a thong is (they were relatively new at the time of posing this question). They’re not asking you to think about it because you should have said “I don’t want to wear a thong when I am older”, or even that you should have said it more quietly, or more close to the person whose thong was peeping from her jeans in Aldi, so she could hear you better. They’re asking you to think about whether or not it is acceptable to say things like that in public.
And they really thought that as a child you would understand what that meant? Should my mum not have said “That may be, but It’s rude to comment on people’s underwear”?
How about as a teenager when you have said things like “No, I don’t agree with eating meat” at a family barbecue. How much more clearly and concisely could you put it? You didn’t need to think any more about what you could have sad, how you could have phrased it, or whether people understood it. People understood it, and that, to the enforcers of “think before you speak”, is the problem. It’s not socially acceptable to have such a differing opinion in such a large crowd of people who all have the same, carnivorous opinion.
Whenever you say something that breaks the mould, differs from the social norm, or asks people to question aspects of their lives that they aren’t prepared to, I’m guessing you’re at risk of being told to “think before you speak”. And I’m guessing you did think before you said it. You probably thought long and hard about your decision to announce that your sister is dressed as a tart, because it was a perfect way to express your feelings on her tarty outfit. But you’re still told to think before you speak.
And of course the more you hear that phrase and don’t understand it, the more your world falls apart when you just want to do a simple thing like ask your housemate if he has mistaken his ice cream for yours, all the while not realising that you had gotten it right all along. In attempting to stamp on your opinion, it has been everyone else who has always got it wrong.