“Say what you mean and mean what you say…” said the March Hare to Alice, both of Wonderland fame. I used to have it backwards, say words and then convince myself I meant them. And if the spoken syllables fell under the heading of joking, well then let the games begin, no-holds-barred.
As a kid, my brothers and I would verbally spar with each other, it would start out recalling the time so-n-so threw up in the car, or that really bad hair cut. Just teasing of course. Viewers on the sidelines would accelerate things with “Good one!” and jeering laughter. How deep you could cut someone by putting their biggest fears, and most embarrassing moments on display, earned points. You knew you had won when the other party was silenced, unable to toss off anymore comebacks. Did we mean all those words? Maybe, maybe not, but if prompted we’d say, “It was just a joke, I didn’t mean it.”
A lot of the behaviors I learned as a kid, don’t serve me as an adult.
“It costs nothing to say something kind. Even less to shut up altogether.” an actor said that, or wrote it. Anyway, I read it and like it for it’s simplicity. Is it right? Sure. Free? Yes. But is it easy to button the old lip and hold back words that might cut someones feelings? Not for a lot of people, myself included. It took me ages to unlearn that game of verbal pickle, the ghastly one, played with a spiked ball and no gloves. Where would calling names, no matter how cleverly worded, get me as an adult? In social circles, nowhere. Use that tactic in a marriage, and I’d be going through the big “D” and I don’t mean Dallas.
I used to tell myself to fight fair. It was a huge realization the day I saw that, GASP, there is no fight. Just me escalating things to that level with old reactions. I asked myself, do I mean any of those words I’m ready to fire off? No. I’m targeting this person for some old issue of which, they may have apologized years ago, or, I never spoke up about in the first place. When I learn this kind of thing about myself I’m amazed I walk upright.
Nowadays, vestiges of the old ‘deflect and distract’ can still engage during heated discussions without a conscious thought, like the Iron Giant before he understood he had a choice. My answer is to get quiet. Inside I’m holding back the slings and arrows that are all too ready to fly. At the same time, I’m searching for what is true to me. And no matter the topic, it never has to do with belittling another person. Not directly or veiled behind a kidding tone of voice.
The problem with quiet thinking is society doesn’t value long pauses. Sometimes, people wonder if I care about the issue at hand, they become uneasy, but it’s not a tactic on my part. I reassure them I’m still working it out in my head. Other times . . . I suspect they think I’m dumb as a bag of hammers. After all these years, I enjoy taking my time and looking at a topic from as many angles as possible. It doesn’t matter to me if someone doubts my intelligence, especially if they think it’s because I won’t yell at another person like a political commentator.
I still ask myself, what do I mean to say? I’ve even added a rule gleaned from a writing group, “Talk about the good things first.” I like it better this way. I don’t see biting remarks or single-digit-syllable sound bytes as the pinnacle of wit. In fact, they tend to be used to avoid the topic completely, or to bully another person. When a volley is sent, what happens if one side doesn’t catch or hit the ball in return? There is no game. And like the man said, it costs less than nothing to do.