(Originally published 1/4/12 on The Huffington Post.)
One of my earliest memories involves a cringe-worthy moment for my mother, when I turned to a tall burly man in a Bronx elevator and said “You shouldn’t smoke, it’s bad for you.” While it is likely true, it’s not something I would now say to a perfect stranger. I remember my mother’s anxiously polite response (as well as the man’s), the jaw-splitting smiles, the chirpy laughter, her trying to cover up for the brash 4-year-old that I was.
… I was cute enough to get away with it then.
Cut to the present day… I’ve noticed that some of my acquaintances choose words carefully while others seem to have what is known as “no filter.” It is far less adorable. The things you wouldn’t say….well, very often, someone else will.
When I was pregnant several years ago, a neighbor approached me at the community rec center and loudly proclaimed “You’re gonna bust right out of that T-shirt. You sure you should be that big for just five months pregnant?” When I informed her I was actually carrying twins, she scolded me repeatedly for being too small.
While I contemplated launching a maternity line with witty comebacks (e.g., “MYOB: Mind Your Own Belly” and “Hands off!”), I saw how free people were to say things with no foresight about what might be hurtful and highly annoying.
Words that could potentially put Kleenex out of business (if you’ve ever been pregnant, I know you know what I’m saying) are often the result of cranial overload-induced verbal diarrhea.
On the other hand, it is not always possible to predict what might be hurtful to others. That which one person hears as a teasing tune of a flute may arrive as the clash of cymbals to the recipient’s ears.
A few years ago, I upset a friend, a fellow mom of twins, by sharing a dream I had about her. I had no idea she was desperately trying to get pregnant again and had just suffered an unexpected miscarriage when I informed her I had dreamed she was pregnant. We’ve all inadvertently upset someone by saying something we thought nothing of. There’s no way to go through life offense-free, but I would say that if you have an inkling of doubt, take out that filter. Try to separate the wheat from the chaff. Let your mind do the thinking before your mouth does the talking.