One of the paradoxes of human endeavor is that at the times when it is most important to think clearly, it is often the most difficult to think clearly. Crises, emergencies and arguments with teenage children often serve to illustrate this. You’re in a situation, oh, let’s say the roast is burning in the oven, company is due in eight minutes and the eight-year-old has just flushed the three-year-old’s blankie down the toilet. Or maybe it was the three-year-old herself that just got flushed down the toilet. Whichever.
Clearly, the actions you take here are relatively significant, especially compared to, say, picking out the pattern of Kleenex to buy for the living room end table. Oh, by the way, I forgot to mention that the curtains in the dining room just caught fire…
So, being the calm, cool, collected person that you are, you text your spouse to pick up three pizzas on the way home, tell the oldest to begin setting up the picnic table on the patio, throw a pitcher of sweet tea on the curtains and tell the eight-year-old to sit on the curtains until they quit smoking and then you grab the plunger and a coat hanger from the utility closet and head upstairs toward the sound of muffled screams and gurgling.
Good work, there. But had you gotten frustrated and let your emotions interfere with your thinking, your company would end up eating burnt offerings and surrounded by the incense of smoldering paisley pattern velour while the eight-year-old is googling “family services” and the three-year-old has very sticky hair.
Whether it’s dealing with small child infused debacles, exchanging insurance information on the side of the freeway or moving toward consensus with your inner selves in regard to the next big family get-together, there are those moments when calm restraint is worth it’s wait (sic) in gold. The first thing that comes to mind is sometimes the worst thing to say. And though apologies are truly golden on the open market of human relations, they cannot erase memory.
Some of the worst emails I’ve ever written were never sent. That restraint alone can spare lives and extend careers. Some of the most smashing insults I’ve ever thought of were never uttered. Owing to grace beyond myself, I have sometimes said something very patient, insightful and understanding when what I was really feeling was an incredible urge to say something genuinely mean, hateful and hurtful.
As my noble, gracious and smarter than me wife says, “You almost never have to apologize for something you decided not to say.”