“Before you speak, let your words pass through three gates: Is it true? Is it necessary? Is it kind?”
I was with a friend one day recently and from the moment our eyes met I could tell something wasn’t right. The happy light that usually decorated her young face was clouded. She looked tired and distracted and was clearly having trouble focusing on the present moment. We exchanged pleasantries and her face softened when the conversation drifted to the topic of her small children, but the thoughts that held her attention that morning overpowered the sunny façade she had created. When she could no longer hold in what was consuming her that day, she told me she was preparing for a confrontation with her mother-in-law. A fissure had been building for a few months now. It might have been a misunderstanding or an intentional slight, but it had been left unaddressed for too long, and now it was, according to my friend, relationship kryptonite. There would be emotional casualties, and she was both preparing and dreading the conversation that lay ahead. As the listener of her side of the story I could not fault her for her frustration and anger, yet I couldn’t help but think of this little bit of advice I learned a while ago, “Be sure to taste your words before you spit them out.”
My mother taught me the old adage, “If you don’t have something nice to say, then don’t say anything at all” and I took those words very seriously. Still do. In fact, I spend a lot of time restraining my voice when I would like to say something, because I’m afraid of how my words will be received. I have accumulated such a strong fear of saying “the wrong” thing that I have trained my body language to speak for me. LOUD and CLEAR. So, rather than utter my thoughts, my jaw sets as my arms fold across my chest and my eyes glaze over. “You’re so wrong!” my body says. Or my eyebrows might slide together as one side of my mouth lifts, as if to say, that’s total BS.” You might say I’m “tasting” my words, and while I’m smart enough not to spit them out, their taste on my tongue is bitter, and my face flagrantly expresses my thoughts. Shame on me. So, if the words that accumulate are too inflammatory to speak, but too tart to swallow, what’s a girl to do? Well, for starters, stop listening to The Story.
Brené Brown is an author, and a researcher of shame and vulnerability. I saw a Brené Brown motivational talk on Netflix recently where she was describing how she and her husband have agreed to disagree. They begin by sharing their position with, “Well the story in my head says……”
Have you ever anticipated a discussion (OK, argument) and practice the conversation in your head before you even see the person you’re going to argue with? First, I’m going to say this, and then they’ll say that, and I’ll come back with yes, but remember when such and such happened, and you said blank… It’s a story. We created it in our head. And pretty soon The Story is so big, and so important and so ugly, you just have to spit out the words that are loaded like darts on your tongue. If only, we could remember, it’s a story. And the story we create is seldom the truth. It’s a fabrication and an exaggeration, and clearly, one-sided. And not even your side. The voice in our head that makes up The Story has a side all its own that is seldom truthful or kind. The voice in our head that makes up stories is body armor and mind defense. It manipulates facts and builds on fears, and the story it creates supersedes rational thought.
So, maybe the next time you’re aware of a developing story being rehearsed and enhanced by the voice in your head, just realize that you are the director of that story. You can allow it to evolve or you can abandon it, mid-production, but if you decide to share your story, edit it generously so that it is truthful and kind. And savor the taste of it before you spit it out.