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GAIL WHITE Careful speech is a masterpiece of the mouth



Published: Fri, August 9, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



The back of my tea bag read, "A true gentleman never hurts someone's feelings unintentionally."

Sitting in my chair, dipping the bag in and out of the warm water, I thought about what I had just read.

At first, the message eluded me. It seemed somewhat nonsensical.

Then, as I sipped my tea, looking back down at the tea bag on my saucer, the art of the words hit me.

There is a certain art to keeping one's mouth shut, and there is an art to opening it. Knowing when to open and close is the masterpiece few achieve.

Well-chosen speech

The wisest, most respected people I know are men and women of few words. The words they speak are well-chosen. It is as if they are painting a work of art, choosing words like a shade of color off a palette.

Then there are those people who run at the mouth at Mach speed. If they think it, they say it. Their words are hard on the ears and hard on the heart.

Like a painter who took the brush, slapped it through the paint and threw the mixture of colors at the canvas, a person who randomly throws out words is difficult to behold.

As my children grow older and their minds become opinionated about people and events, I have tried to impress upon them the importance of keeping close guard on their mouths.

"I have never regretted anything nice I have said," I tell them. "I have often regretted the mean things."

They stare at me and nod their heads. But in their next breath, I hear them talking negatively.

Facing up

Creating a masterpiece takes time and much practice -- and more than a few mistakes. The same is true of the art of words.

"Don't say anything about anyone that you wouldn't say to their face," I instruct my young word artists.

This may be one of the most difficult lessons of a controlled tongue. It is so easy to spew about a person behind their back. Face to face, the words come slower, with more discretion.

If words must be said behind the back, they are most likely words of gossip. There are few people less enjoyable to talk to in this world than a gossip.

As motivation for my children to keep guard over their mouths, I tell them, "The person you are talking about will, undoubtedly, hear what you have said about them."

They are not convinced my warning is true. They will learn that there are few things more embarrassing in life than being caught with your foot in your mouth.

While I work to impress upon my children the importance of chosen words, my tea bag has taught me another side to exercising a controlled tongue.

To me, being a lady meant keeping my mouth shut -- not that I always succeeded.

Inevitably, after stewing over an issue, my mouth would cause me to lose my ladylike stature.

By the time my words came, I would be so angry, they hit my object like venom. Not a pretty picture.

Carefully venting

Never hurting someone's feelings "unintentionally" means that somewhere between keeping my mouth shut and letting stewed-up words fly, there is a moment where a few chosen words can respectfully be said, allowing the anger to dissipate.

For all the times I have said things I wish I hadn't, there are at least half as many times I wish I would have spoken but didn't want to sound unladylike.

Being a lady or a gentleman doesn't mean being a doormat.

Indeed, being a person of integrity means not listening to the venomous spewing of others. A few choice, direct words can rebuff a diarrhea mouth.

Oh, the wisdom of the tea bag!

It is best to hold my tongue, I believe.

But occasionally, it is appropriate -- indeed, necessary as a lady or gentleman -- to hurt people's feelings intentionally so they may learn the art of controlling their tongues.

As I finished my cup, I made a vow with myself to practice better tongue control, that my words may fall like a beautiful masterpiece onto others.

gwhite@vindy.com




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