Open mouth, insert cork (to keep the foot out).

“Remember not only to say the right thing in the right place, but far more difficult still, to leave unsaid the wrong thing a tempting moment.” ~ Benjamin Franklin

I sometimes think I’m kind of funny.  In fact, I’ve long thought my wit was one of my more attractive qualities.  I can make a quick, snappy comeback to most situations and usually elicit some laughter.  I hate fighting and contention, but I love clever banter.  In fact, I often use humor as a way to diffuse a potentially volatile environment.  This will make sense to any Austen fans out there, but one of the reasons I love Elizabeth Bennett in Pride and Prejudice is her gift for smart and funny conversation, like the time when she and Jane are both lamenting her single status right after Jane and Mr. Bingley became engaged:

Jane Bennet: Oh, Lizzie, if I could but see you happy. If there were such another man for you.
Elizabeth Bennet: Perhaps Mr. Collins has a cousin.

I love that kind of laughing away an awkward situation.  There’s obviously a place for humor:

“Find happiness in ordinary things, and keep your sense of humor.”  ~ President Boyd K. Packer

“There is certainly no defence against adverse fortune which is, on the whole, so effectual as an habitual sense of humor.”~ Thomas Wentworth Storrow Higginson, quoted by President James E. Faust

However, in the last couple weeks my “humor” has made a couple of bad situations worse.  My attempts to make a witty comment left some people offended, and upon reflection, in both cases I realize they thought I was making light of their struggle.  So, I’ve been eating a little humble pie because it was not my intention to hurt anyone’s feelings, and it stinks.  It’s no fun to realize that your “strength,” if not moderated, can be a weakness.  I reread this talk today:  “Our Strengths Can Become Our Downfall” by Elder Dallin H. Oaks, and this is what stood out to me:

“… Our weaknesses are not the only areas where we are vulnerable. Satan can also attack us where we think we are strong–in the very areas where we are proud of our strengths. He will approach us through the greatest talents and spiritual gifts we possess. If we are not wary, Satan can cause our spiritual downfall by corrupting us through our strengths as well as by exploiting our weaknesses. . . .

“How, then, do we prevent our strengths from becoming our downfall? The quality we must cultivate is humility. Humility is the great protector. Humility is the antidote against pride. Humility is the catalyst for all learning, especially spiritual things. . .

A person who engages in self-congratulation over a supposed strength has lost the protection of humility and is vulnerable to Satan’s using that strength to produce his or her downfall. In contrast, if we are humble and teachable, hearkening to the commandments of God, the counsel of his leaders, and the promptings of his spirit, we can be guided. We can be guided in how to use our spiritual gifts, our accomplishments, and all of our other strengths for righteousness. And we can be guided in how to avoid Satan’s efforts to use our strengths to cause our downfall.”

So then I started thinking, How can I use more humility in my conversations?  Do I maybe try to be funny and unconsciously seek praise and admiration from my listeners?  And do I do that at the cost of other people’s feelings in a group, or do my witticisms unknowingly push some of them out of the conversation? Please know that this isn’t a plea for validation from anyone who knows me.  I’m not trying to be overly self-critical; I’m just trying to be really thoughtful about the way I use words.  And I know this is getting really long, so sorry, but I’m not done learning yet.  Yesterday on the local Christian radio station, the host said,

“Did you know that failure is fertilizer for spiritual growth?”

And if making a lady up-and-leave a PTO meeting because of one of my “jokes” isn’t a failure, then I don’t know what is.  So I’m really hoping I grow from it.  Here are a few things I’ve learned so far:

1.  I heard this a long time ago, but didn’t really pay much attention at the time.  But it’s something to the effect of  measuring what you say by the following questions:  Is it true?  Is it kind?  Is it necessary? I’m beginning to realize I need to think through those things more often before I speak, not after.

2.  I always remember this conference talk and the gentle reminder:

“Do you remember the story of Bambi, the little deer, and all of his friends in the forest? If you do, you will remember that one of Bambi’s good friends was a rabbit named Thumper. Thumper was about your age. He was a neat rabbit, but he had one problem. He kept saying bad things about people. One day Bambi was in the forest learning to walk, and he fell down. Thumper just couldn’t resist the temptation. “He doesn’t walk very good, does he?” Thumper blurted out. His mother felt very bad and said, “What did your father tell you this morning?” And then Thumper, looking down at his feet and kind of shifting his weight, said, “If you can’t say somethin’ nice, don’t say nothin’ at all.” That’s a good piece of advice that all of us need to follow.”  ~ Elder Cree-L Crawford

3.  I also remembered a column I really liked from Annie about this lesson of kindness in our words.  I’ve never considered myself a “gossip,” but I painfully recognized a tiny bit of myself in some of the things she said.

4.  And lastly, (see? I can eventually stop) I’m reminded of this phrase from the “Language” section of For the Strength of Youth:

How you speak says much about who you are. Clean and intelligent language is evidence of a bright and wholesome mind. Use language that uplifts, encourages, and compliments others. Do not insult others or put them down, even in joking. Speak kindly and positively about others so you can fulfill the Lord’s commandment to love one another. When you use good language, you invite the Spirit to be with you.

So, my new strategy is to hold my tongue a little bit while I figure out the most appropriate ways to use humor in conversation.  Because, seriously?, isn’t humor really meant to make people feel good?

Sitting around in the fertilizer for a while might stink, but I think something good will grow out of it.

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36 thoughts on “Open mouth, insert cork (to keep the foot out).

  1. Yeah, I’ve felt like that many many times. I remember one time I was helping someone set up for a party at her house and for some reason, I felt like every thing I said was the wrong thing. She SAID she wasn’t offended–hopefully she wasn’t saying that to be nice.

    I lost a babysitting job once partly because I was not carefully considering my words to the parents. I said some things out loud that should have never been allowed outside my cranium.

    That’s an interesting thought that strengths can be weaknesses if not used in moderation (and by moderation, I mean that we watch what we say–we moderate our own thoughts, sort of like a judge moderates a debate)

  2. Pingback: Humble π « WhyIota

  3. I really, really, really like this post. Probably because it totally applies to me.

    My problem comes when other people are afflicted with verbal diarrhea. I figure that if they get to say whatever they think, then shouldn’t I have that same opportunity? I’m slowly learning that not every opportunity needs to be taken. And sure, sometimes that doesn’t feel fair, but I know that often, when I keep my trap shut, I go home still feeling good about myself. And that’s definitely worth a sarcastic comment or two.

  4. I have a tendency to be sarcastic. I have tempered it over the years as I have matured, but I had a few “run-ins” in my younger days. I thought I was just being funny, but I was out of line on many occasions and was called out on it in a couple of work situations. It stinks to be caught that way when you weren’t intending to offend. I like your take on it and I am grateful for all the opportunities that life provides for fertilizer!! (well, mostly after the fact!)

    • I also have a sarcastic commentary running through my head most of the time and it gets me into a ton of trouble. I teach with that and my students sometimes do not “get” me. I have problems communicating without it, but life is a learning and growing process. All I can do is try hard each day.

  5. I have a really sarcastic sense of humor which I have to be very careful with. Sadly, I’ve learned from experience that not everyone thinks like I do so what I think is funny is not. Most people I know think I don’t talk much or am shy. It’s only because I have to keep my trap shut. I often feel like Anne Shirley when she tells Aunt Marilla, “I know I chatter on far too much… but if you only knew how many things I want to say and don’t.”

  6. I have been in that situation before. More often I find myself using the word “I” too often in conversation. Sometimes listening is way more important. Thank you for reminding me to watch my words more closely. It never hurts to learn to be kinder.

  7. I have put my foot in my mouth on far too many occasions. I would give you some examples but I hate thinking about it because it makes me feel even more uncomfortable and embarrassed, (I can’t believe I said that!)
    I really do need to think before I speak, my dad used to tell me that all the time.

  8. Yes, thank you, great post. As mentioned above , really lovely and potent truth: that darkness and weakness can actually reach us through our strengths. It’s also a good perspective to have for those of us who feel hurt by someone else’s not completely benign, “witty” verbosity.
    Keep sharing your wisdom:)

  9. Man, Stephanie, I hope one day we can meet each other because we will just having each other rolling on the floor. I, too, am quite hilarious. ( 🙂 )

    The other day at David’s baptism (which was my first week back at church after 4 months – for a billion reasons: baby, health, broken car, weather etc.) There were some new missionaries and they kept laughing at everything I said (it felt like) so I inadvertently started being even more sarcastic than usual (I sort of hated it, but maybe you know how it is sometimes) and when we were about to leave Greg headed toward the bathroom first and Evie started following him there. I told her, “Um, you don’t have to follow him in there, really” or something like that and it really hurt her feelings that I embarrassed her like that in front of the missionaries! I felt terrible. I wasn’t even trying to be funny or sarcastic, I just meant to point out that he wasn’t headed to the exit door, but to the bathroom. Anyway, it made me realize that I really need to reign it in and consider what I’m saying and not just blurt out whatever comes to mind. Even if people are laughing. Ugh.

  10. I’ve struggled with this too, especially since joining the church and I really became more aware of my words and how they made people feel. One thing that I’ve thought a lot about over the years (but still haven’t really been able to apply fully) is Pres. Hinckley’s humor. He was always so funny and yet it was always clean and never hurtful. I’ve found it helpful to learn about his sense of humor because it seems like such a good example of humor bringing joy and love. Best of luck on your journey and know that we are all right there along with you! Thanks for sharing so many wonderful insights on your blog. Love it!

  11. I think I only commented on your blog once, maybe a year ago. But today’s post really hit a chord with me, because I consider myself to be witty and use humor to diffuse situations as well.

    But upon reflection, is what I say always necessary? Does it exclude anyone else from the conversation or make anyone feel uncomfortable? Probably. And the other thing that I now am thinking about is to not consider my “strengths” too much and practice humility so they don’t become a tool in Satan’s hands.

    I don’t gossip, but I am overt in my humor and for some sensitive souls that may be just as bad. Thanks for the food for thought.

  12. I feel your pain. I’ve had a recurring New Years resolution the past couple of years: Practice verbal restraint.

    Still haven’t mastered it yet.

  13. Whoo, boy. Holding my tongue – not one of my strong suits, especially if I’m trying to be funny. I have a tendency to be sarcastic which has a tendency to cause problems. Which is why I try not to talk much.

  14. Stethanie, you thunny! (Thorry, I’m holding my thongue). Nice to see someone funny kneeling at the cross alongside…too many missing G-R-A-C-E! Thanks for processing the lesson “out loud.” Enjoyed your writing and your wisdom

  15. Yeah, this is me, too. I think I’m stinking hilarious but I really have to watch that it’s not at the expense of someone else, even if it’s what I would consider “affectionate” teasing. I think your three question test is a good one.

  16. I really like your post. I think one of the reasons people (including myself) have gone a little too far with some “affectionate” teasing, or diffusing situations with wit and humor is because we say things that we know wouldn’t necessarily offend us if we were on the receiving end but don’t realize how sensitive some people could be. Its tough to determine a persons sensitivity level unless you’ve known them for a good enough amount of time… I guess my point is, you cant win with everyone and if you do striking the wrong not with someone, all you could do is apologize and hope they accept.

  17. Lol! I recently started a blog on our words, but didn’t get it finished yet. I was getting convicted of similar things, including the witty banter that, if left unchecked, could turn sour quickly. In the last couple of days I’ve found myself in a situation that I have used MANY words and now I’m starting to question how many of those words were necessary and what I truly needed to say, and hoping that they didn’t cause more harm than good. I just stumbled upon your blog and it looks like you beat me to the punch! It’s so interesting how the Lord talks to His Church!

  18. I am so glad that I read this, because it reminds me to think before I open my mouth.
    Like you, I have a sense of humour and have been complimented on my witty sayings.
    One day I realised that I was proud of my sense of humour.
    When I was about 8 my teacher said “pride comes before a fall”. I know that is a cliche’d but it was the first time I had heard it and she used it in exactly the right circumstances to make me remember.
    So I decided that hencefore I would try to think before opening my mouth. Sometimes it works….

  19. It sounds as though this post was made for me. Overly sarcastic and thinking i’m hilarious whilst managing to insert my overlarge feet into my even bigger mouth. Good words of wisdom.

  20. You certainly opened up my head & looked in. I also think I am so witty but it has certainly gotten me in trouble more than once. If you think running a woman out of a PTA meeting is bad, try this: I told a guy (who I did not know) that he was an “orphink” (my oh so clever, Popeye imitation) at his mother’s funeral. I will never forget that moment between the sound & the realization that it had come from me.

  21. Thanks for the great post. I came home from church today determined to never speak again. But someone would probably be offended by that too. I’m hopeless.

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