"Have you ever thought of something somewhat insensitive in tone or message and had the words trip from your lips before you could stop them? Have you ever spoken hurtful words and instantly regretted their utterance thinking, 'If only I could have bitten my lip for ten seconds more, no offence would have been caused!'
They say 'Act in haste and repent at leisure' and yet despite knowing this, all of us are prone to open our mouths and put our foot in it from time to time. This very example illustrates the fact that thought always comes before action, even though we cannot always 'hold' that thought and prevent it converting itself into action. The reason for this type of irrepressible behaviour is that both thought and action, which are tied in sequence, determine our 'voluntary and involuntary behaviour pattern'.
Our behaviour pattern is made up of both 'voluntary' and 'involuntary' behaviour. This is behaviour that we both need to 'consciously' think about or 'not consciously' think about. We need involuntary behaviour for two main reasons; to keep us acting 'safely' and also 'efficiently'. If for example, a tower building collapses as we walk by in the street; as soon as we look up and see the falling debris, the body instantly recognises the danger and the brain 'automatically' instructs the body muscles 'to move out of the way as quickly as possible.' To stop and think before moving could be extremely dangerous; even fatal. This represents how involuntary movement keeps us safe.
Many years ago, there was a scientific television series revealing the many types of thought processes that humans use to get by in daily life. The programme presenter was a man called, Edward de Bono. This Maltese physician, psychologist, philosopher, author, inventor and consultant originated the term, 'Lateral Thinking' and went on to spend his life examining and teaching thought processes. One of his main conclusions for people wanting a greater understanding of how their body and brain work in collaboration is to accept that the prime function of the brain is 'not to think'. He went on to explain that the brain's function is to make the body as efficient and as safe as possible. It is perhaps easier to understand this concept by accepting that the body does not think where 'there is no need to think', or put in a more sophisticated manner, 'in instances where repeated learning has always produced the same consequences (either in safety or threat to life), there is no efficient reason to think about such consequences when similar situations next arise, or to act differently than before!
We also need to make our body muscles do the most they can with the least amount of energy required in order to remain efficient. Humans need both types of behaviour to prevent us 'overthinking' unnecessarily and to make our energetic output more productive. Take tying one's shoelaces for instance. Once one has learned to sequentially think through the process and remember one's movements after repeated attempts, we are able to tie our shoelaces without seemingly any thought. We do, however, still exercise thought in the process, but the thinking has now been automatically patterned in our memory bank and is no longer 'conscious' of our awareness. Hence, the action which follows this type of patterned thought is 'involuntary action'. The same brain/body process applies to things like driving a car. Once a person has learned to drive and has driven many times repeating the required movements needed to propel the car in the safest and efficient manner, there is no longer a need like a learner driver to 'overthink' one's actions as they drive along from one destination to another. The experienced driver, therefore, travels from 'A' to 'B' without being conscious of the mechanical body movements they have performed driving the car. The experienced driver's movements are made up of largely involuntary movements, but should the driver start to tire for example and perhaps drive too close to another vehicle, the sudden loud toot of another's motorist's horn will immediately shock their senses. Under such circumstances, their 'involuntary thought' will instantly become 'voluntary thought' and they will brace their body muscles for more conscious, voluntary action. They will have effectively become more alert to the dangers of their continued action unless altered.
This is why the saying, 'Stop and think before taking action' came about. Such advice merely recognises that there is a thought from our brain that precedes each body action, and if we allow our body to do what it is likely to do, an unthinking, involuntary thought will produce an involuntary action, and correspondingly, a more conscious thought will produce a voluntary action. This is the main distinction between culpable choice and less culpable action. It also indicates that humans are not as helpless as they think and need not be at the mercy of their automatic thoughts. If they learn to 'pause or stop' the process, even for a matter of a few seconds, the brain/body instruction sequence can be interrupted, enabling the individual to 'think again', and thereby 'make voluntary' their next action (ie. make it an action of choice).
Back to the perceived social consequences of 'putting one's foot in one's mouth'. The real harm comes I suppose in the knowledge that for right or wrong, good or bad, once spoken the words cannot be unsaid or ever taken back. Even if a sincere and apologetic attempt is instantly made to retract the offending words, the wound the arrow caused when it left the bow shall still make the blood flow once it is pulled from the wounded site. There will always remain a scar as a reminder of the hurtful incident. It will remain in the mind and memory of both offender and offended for all time, and risk being partly regurgitated each time the original incident is referred to or brought back up in conversation.
Such unfortunate slips of the tongue apply within families as well as without and even parents and children, and sibling and sibling fall foul of this practice from time to time. I know of a few family relationships that still remain sour after the original words of hurt have been spoken five years earlier or more. Whenever I see such family ill-will remain unresolved (some of which is taken to the grave), I feel, 'What a waste!'
There are so many people who I love, yet whom I know that my unguarded words may have once offended. And while I love the English language, even straight-talking and truthful accuracy emanating from a twisted mouth and mind can make the teeth bite hard into the lip. Perhaps it's better to draw blood from one's lip than to learn to shoot too fast from the hip?
Comedians probably have much to teach us when it comes to mixing truth with tact. They learn when practising their art form that getting the audience on their side and timing allows them to say things that don't generate offence which, in other circumstances, obviously would. They have studied the process of 'pause', knowing that saying just the right thing after a considerable and awkward pause is far less effective than saying the wrong thing with perfect timing.
I once recall being at a wedding of a friend and listening to the Best Man's speech. The person chosen as Best Man was the groom's lifelong friend but he was prone to putting his foot in it from time to time by being too clever by half. He loved his best pal who he was losing to a woman he didn't really like, and he resented the fact that being a married man, his friend would no longer be able to go on nights out at the pub and on holidays with him, like they'd done without fail during the past seven years. When the Best Man came to say a few things about the bride and groom's suitability, he tried to conceal the truth of what he truly felt in a half-hearted joke. He said to assembled guests, 'I can personally testify that Roger has been the best of mates any chap could ever hope for, and over the past seven years we have gone through thick and thin together. He is in short, a wonderful guy and deserves a perfect woman at his side as a wife...(long pause)...Unfortunately, life being prone to kicking a chap in the goolies when he's down, we don't always get what we deserve!'
Someone once asked the late Evangelist, Billy Graham, if he was ever fearful of saying the wrong thing in one of his sermons. Billy reportedly answered that it didn't really matter, as his congregation came to hear the word of God and not the word of Billy Graham.
While it is important to say the right thing in the right place, far more difficult still, to leave unsaid the wrong thing at the most tempting of moments.
So, the next time you are dying to say something and to say it as it is, consider the merits of leaving some things unsaid. Even the best cooks of the English language sometimes put too much salt into their serving and afterwards, are forced to eat their words."
Love and peace Bill xxx