Most of us have been in situations where we wished our actions would have been different. Even more frustrating are the ones where we wished we had spoken up but instead, kept silent. Those memories often prompt us to ask, “Why didn’t I say something?”
Recalling them may cause us to become angry at ourselves. Then we compound that outrage with degrading self-talk and quickly admire those who rarely hesitate to speak their minds – whether or not anyone wants to hear it – yearning to be more like them.
Likewise, there are times when we were compelled to say something and then wished we had kept our mouth shut. The words, however, slipped off our tongue and landed on the wrong person’s ear, causing a difficult or perhaps regrettable outcome. “Why couldn’t I just have kept my mouth shut,” we contemplate.
Those recollections bring no less pain and summon a more subdued, yet still demeaning tone as we shake our heads in disgust at our behavior. To sooth our souls, we think about those who’ve shown great patience and possess the wisdom and ability to keep cool heads in confrontational situations. We admire them for their calm behavior and saint-like patience.
To speak up or not to speak up; that is the question. But how do we answer this perplexing query, at least in the moment we so desperately need it? What parameters should we set that guide us to know how we ought to respond in these troubling situations?
It seems some people have a personality that allows them to speak their mind regardless of the situation. They never hesitate to give their opinion, nor do they seem to care if anyone agrees with them. Something compels them to speak up, and they do.
For those who are fearful or develop anxiety in such circumstances, it’s understandable why the ability to “tell it like it is” can be admirable. If we only had that kind of bravado in those difficult situations, we wouldn’t repeatedly be degrading ourselves and be caught in a continual, downward spiral deeming ourselves useless and pathetic.
When you find yourselves in this or a similar pattern, the best thing to tell yourself is that it is nothing more than your own shame suppressing you to stay in this destructive mindset. Shame will always remain the victor and be in control of your actions when you are trapped in this place of negativity and doubt. There is a way to break this pattern and change that destructive way of thinking.
Take a deep breath and do your best to slow and stop the negative self-talk. Accept that you cannot go back and change anything. Then forgive yourself for thinking those terrible thoughts and forgive that person – your younger self – for not speaking up at that time.
You also may want to rethink any admiration toward those whom you believe possess this knack; it’s not always a virtue to speak one’s mind. In fact, many people who have discarded this filter of restraint do not speak the truth but rather a tainted version of their own selfish perspective. Their words are often uttered to hurt people and make them feel terrible. Belittling others is a trophy to their self-importance, superiority, and arrogance.
Undoubtedly, there are times when we must speak up, but if the purpose of those words is to disrupt or divide, there’s a high probability the intent is to make themselves look better. This kind of rhetoric has become prevalent across the globe. We have been emboldened to speak “our truths” regardless of what damage is left in its wake, even though the destruction and hatred it produces is prevalent at every rung in society.
Not to speak
Is it better to keep one’s mouth shut and deal with the consequences, or is it better to say something and clean up the aftermath? The answer to this question, unfortunately, lies in the future. Sometimes we can never know what the right choice is until there is an opportunity to reflect on it. But that doesn’t mean we cannot establish guidelines to help us better discern what to do when we find ourselves in these predicaments.
Last week, I was in one of these quandaries. While sitting at the dealership waiting for my car to be repaired, I struck up a conversation with an older gentleman. Of course, the pandemic came up and it mutated into a political discussion. The man voiced opinions quite different from mine. I allowed him his view and had no intent to argue or say how much I disagreed with him. Instead, it was an exercise in listening and patience.
In these situations, I’ve decided to error on the side of kindness. I was taught this by someone very dear to me and continually strive to make this my default modus operandi. Had I interjected my objections into the conversation, it would’ve only added more strife, and possibly left us both very upset we had ever begun a conversation.
Spreading and promoting kindness is what our world needs. Although there may be times when I wished I had spoken up, I can always look back and be proud to know that spreading seeds of kindness was my intention and goal.
Kindness doesn’t mean that we must be taken advantage of. It’s more of a tiny beacon in a raging storm. It’s a path I have chosen to create a better world. It’s not always easy and at times, I fall short. But ultimately, it has the power to unify and unite; one which speaking harsh words will never be able to duplicate.
What you set for guidelines may be different from mine, but when we have a purpose that is greater than ourselves, we become capable of working miracles far beyond what the expectations of anyone who can “tell it like it is.”