Open Mouth –
I heard someone say yesterday that; “only a fish with its mouth open gets caught!” I like the saying. It’s similar to the wisdom teaching; “No one regrets a harsh word unspoken.”
One of the key tenets of my job is to ensure each client’s privacy. I am not allowed to talk about conversations, other information, or even affirm a client is a client to anyone who does not and should not know. It’s difficult at times when someone calls from another organization to inquire about a client to say; “I’m sorry. I cannot talk about clients. Period.” but sometimes I have to do it.
Though a challenge I think it would be great if everyone followed the rule of not talking about another without the other’s permission. However, often times it’s the opposite. We hear a juicy piece of gossip, an embarrassing story, someone is facing a challenging situation, carrying the burden of a struggling relationship and we can’t keep it to ourselves! We’ve got to share it. Like fish we’ve chomped down on the bait and once we’re caught we dangle it in front of others to see if they will take a bite also. Gossip turns to rumors and they always come back around to the person being talked about. The hurt they already felt is multiplied. Their burden becomes that much more to bear.
Instead of an open ear and open mouth to hear and repeat innuendos and insults perhaps we can offer the person struggling, a listening spirit and words of comfort and kindness.
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This morning, following the children’s time in the church service, the pastor gave out Tootsie Roll Pops to all the kids. While he was passing them out he said; “The only rule about these is you cannot run while they are in your mouth!” Made sense. Anyone with a chunk of candy attached to a paper stick could choke themselves if they tripped and fell lodging the sucker in their throat. The kids did what I would have done; pulled off the wrapping and put the candy in their mouths. They walked back to their seats careful to heed the pastor’s words of warning.
I reflected on the warning of the pastor, running with a tasty treat but also a choking hazard. There are times when we have a good word or tasty gossip on the tip of our tongue. We want to run and tell someone the good news or the tantalizing tidbit. Instead of first being mindful and still, being thoughtful and thankful for the blessing, or hearing a salacious piece of fact or fiction from someone we rush to the next waiting ear to spill all the details. We forget or don’t care that careless words hurt people.
Words are life-giving and soul-crushing. We must be careful how we use them.
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Popped in the Mouth –
The other day I heard a discussion between two women about a mom “popping” her adolescent child in the mouth. I cringed as the two women agreed sometimes it has to be done when a kid won’t stop talking back. This week #RoaseanneBarr was “popped” for using words which degrade and dehumanize others. I once had an adult tell me they were “popped” in the mouth by a parent when they were in college for not respecting her parents. I think all of us at one point or another have been “popped” because of something coming out of mouths that weren’t needed, necessary or helpful.
The swift punishment “popping” implies is that the words were barely out of the mouth before being punished. I’ve reflected on the words which have come out of my mouth over the years and if I was punished for every wrong phrase or wording, egotistical and asinine thing I’ve let loose I’d be hurting a long time and most of the pain would be deserved.
Words matter! A famous wisdom quote reads; “Do not speak unless it improves upon silence.” Perhaps if we were slower to speak the world would have less pain and more love.
Last night I stuck a bag of trash on the porch. Living in the country and not placing garbage in a receptacle is like playing Russian Roulette. Sometimes a varmint gets into it and other times they just pass it by. Unfortunately, last night something got into the trash and scattered it all over the driveway. It was the first thing I saw when letting the dog out this morning. I went inside, grabbed a new bag and began recollecting the trash. There’s nothing quite like picking up frost-covered garbage at dawn.
As I was gathering it and stuffing it into the bag I began to recall a Jewish wisdom tale;
A woman repeated a story (gossip) about a neighbor. Within a few days, everyone in the community knew the story. The person she talked about heard what had been said about her and she was very sad. Later, the woman who had spread the story learned that it was not true. She was very sorry and went to a wise rabbi and asked what she could do to repair the damage. After giving this some thought, the rabbi said to her, “Go home, get one of your feather pillows, and bring it back to me.” Surprised by the rabbi’s response, the woman followed his advice and went home to get a feather pillow and brought it to the rabbi. “Now,” said the rabbi, “open the pillow and pull out all the feathers.” Confused, the woman did what she was told to do. After a few minutes, the rabbi said, “Now, I want you to find every one of the feathers and put them back into the pillow.” “That’s impossible,” said the woman, almost in tears. “The window is open and the wind has scattered them all over the room and blown many feathers outside. I can’t possibly find them all.” “Yes,” said the rabbi. “And that is what happens when you gossip or tell a story about someone else. Once you talk about someone, the words fly from one person’s mouth to another, just like these feathers flew in the wind. Once you say them, you can never take them back.”
It was a great reminder that not only every word but every action has consequences that we cannot foresee. Our lives should be lived mindfully aware that our scattered thoughts, words, and actions will impact the world for evil or for good.
One of the advantages of insomnia is getting chores done while others are asleep. For the last five weeks, as I’ve battled sleeplessness, I’ve also been cleaning. One of the rooms I do most mornings is the kitchen. Today I noticed the filter in the sink was really dirty which means it’s doing its job. The purpose of a kitchen sink filter is to catch all the food and other junk before it slides down the drain and causes backups and other expensive troubles.
I spoke to a group of guys this week and we talked about the; “space in between” our thoughts, feelings and our actions, response. I told them; “the more space you have between your thoughts and your words, your feelings and your actions, the less regret and shame in your life.”
It’s a lesson we all must learn. A filter over our mouths, a pause before our reactions, a moment of stillness and reflection before words we can never get back, actions we can’t rescind slide out and cause unnecessary and costly trouble.