JournalismPakistan.com February 24, 2019
I saw this stuffed fish on top of a fireplace, and beneath it, the caption read: “If I had kept my mouth shut, I wouldn't be here.” The glassy eyes still looked sad, like it wished it hadn't gone for the bait.
So damn true! Most of our hassles are caused by opening our mouths and saying the wrong thing to the wrong people at the wrong time with the wrong results.
Running off at the mouth and being indiscreet are the two things that get us into hot water. Think of the many times you have had to rue not shutting up. Is it that difficult to keep your own counsel? Yes, it is. Some of us cannot stop running off at the mouth.
Now with WhatsApp and Instagram and all these other social media platforms, our indiscretion has reached a whole new level. The old email being sent to the wrong person seems like a vanilla error, mild and milky, compared to the instant agony of dispatching texts and photos to the wrong people because it happens, that's why especially when you are multi-messaging. Then there is the desperate scrabble to retrieve the message.
We cannot keep a secret for more than an hour. We have to tell someone else. It is like it's all bottled up inside, screaming to get out. There are no second thoughts as we thunder in, only to regret things at leisure.
Lose our job because we think badmouthing the boss was a show of guts. Think everyone in the office is impressed now that you are packing your bags? No way. They are already jockeying to get your chair and won't remember your name in a week.
We fight as a couple and call the neighbors in to arbitrate, then we make up and hate the poor neighbors forever. That is why you should never become counsel for a couple; it will bite you in the butt.
We hear a rumor and weave a huge patchwork quilt out of it. The juicier it is, the sooner it circulates, even if you cover it with plastic concern. Without even caring to confirm something, we spread it like butter.
We lie about our status, our wealth, our purchases. If you traveled economy, fine, don't announce you travelled business, no one cares except you.
We are lousy at the timing, and we cause so much hurt because we cannot zip it.
Our day is full of 'If you ask me...' and 'In my personal opinion...' and 'from my point of view....' and we never hear shut up already.
No wonder so many careers end up like the fish, stuffed and mounted and going nowhere in a hurry.
Learn the advantage of not opening your mouth and putting your foot in it.
We are told that silence is golden when we are little kids, but it is not a dictate we take on board easily. The reason for that is we are afraid of silence. We cannot take it, and there is this reflexive action to fill it with sound. See for yourself how you react to silence - it is the enemy, much as we babble on about repose and the pleasures of solitude and enjoying it. On the contrary, we massacre silence. The first thing we do in the car or upon entering the house is turn on the radio or the TV, even if it is mindless sound.
To a great extent, silence suffocates us. So, we open our mouths. Two people sitting in companionable silence, it is like holding your breath, one gives up and says the wrong thing. Hell breaks loose. Husbands and wives do it all the time.
Once said, it is true that you cannot take it back. And if you try, you only make things worse.
I had done some real screamers in my time, long before I learned the virtues of zipping my lips. I have tried to fill the sounds of silence at a mass party by telling a lady I did not recognize that this home we were in was a testament to bad taste, look at it, I said, it is ostentatious. She looked at me and said, this is my home.
I have even introduced a smart young man at a wedding reception to his father-in-law by exalting the youngster's virtues. He will make some girl very happy, I say, blithely. Replies the father-in-law: he already does, he is married to my daughter, you were at the wedding in Goa.
Talking about putting my foot in it, I once kept calling this very nice guy Shashi through the evening until he finally lost it and said, I am not flipping Shashi, my wife is Shashi.
Some of us put our mouths into gear before thinking. The need to speak is so overwhelming that we cram words into spaces like cement into cracks, keep chattering on.
Even the serious side of being a blabber is self-destructive. We quit jobs in a fit of anger and then it is too late to retrieve lost ground. We send off a letter of rage protesting something and then realize that we could have waited and resolved things another way.
We are at our worst when we promise to keep confidence and then share it with another, breaking that pledge and then feeling deliciously guilty about it.
No wonder, for so many of us, life is littered with the legend: this message has been deleted.
Only sometimes wish it was.
(The writer is a Senior Editorial Advisor of Khaleej Times and the paper’s former Editor. He has also been the Editor of Gulf News, Gulf Today, Emirates Today and Bahrain Tribune)
The Nation, December 14, 2016
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