By: Wayne Brown
We all possess something very powerful. Few of us really appreciate how powerful it really is in so many ways. It can love, hurt, damage, detract, inspire, dissect, interject, wreck, depose, and infuriate and that is only the start. We use it every day without so much as a thought. Sometimes we embarrass ourselves with it and once we have employed it, it is extremely difficult to counter its effects. If you have not figured it out by now, then you are likely headed for trouble. This powerful thing that we all possess is the “spoken word.”
Mark Twain once observed, “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.” Not bad advice but first one has to understand the foolish aspects of what he is about to say. I guess that’s why they say that we are our own worst enemy. Twain counted on silence and the benefit of a doubt to carry him through. Of course to do that would be to assume that we have managed to gain control of the urge to speak. In other words, better sense trumps our ego. As long as the world is populated with politicians, celebrities, and fools, it is doubtful that good sense will ever override ego.
Some think that having money or fame also brings with it not only the right to speak but the responsibility to speak. For some reason or other these people tend to equate success with wisdom and money with knowledge. An interesting example here was a situation in which NBA Basketball star, Shaquille O’Neal was asked by the media what he thought of the Parthenon on his recent visit to Greece. To that question, O’Neal responded, “I can’t remember the names of the clubs we went into.” Obviously, while Shaquille might have been missing from school on the day that was taught, he has not missed many trips to the strip clubs and his response more than confirmed it.
Another great example of how money distorts our ability to empathize and put things in proportion took place when former First Lady of the Philippines, Imelda Marcos, irritated that people were criticizing her massive shoe collection, remarked, “, “I get so tired of listening to one million dollars here, one million dollars there, it’s so petty.” Obviously such a dim witted comment did not endure Imelda to those folks who wondered where the next pair of shoes for their baby was coming from. Ms. Marcos had about as much appreciation for a million dollars as many of our elected officials in Washington share today.
Of course we all like to use the spoken word to demonstrate our intellect from time to time. I really thought former President Bill Clinton did this best especially when he was heard to remark during the Monica Lewinsky debacle, “It all depends on what the definition of ‘is’ is.” Even to this day, I am not sure if this was a stupid remark or if Bill, being a Rhodes Scholar and all, is just too damn smart for me to follow. One thing is for sure, the statement confused enough people at the time and from that perspective Clinton certainly benefited in the outcome.
Jessica Simpson was another one who verbalized her intellect while during the course of consuming a tuna salad remarked, ““Is this chicken, what I have, or is this fish? I know it’s tuna, but it says Chicken of the Sea.” She knew it was tuna but had to ask if it could be chicken. Well, Duh! One has feathers and the other one can swim…is that enough of a hint, Jessica. On the day brains were handed out, I think God might have said, “Jessica, you’ll be a great little singer, but here’s a tip…keep your mouth shut.
Sometimes the spoken word is used to denote positions of power and confidence. General George Armstrong Custer was heard to remark just prior to riding into the Little Big Horn, “There are not enough Indians in the whole world to whip the 7th Cavalry.” Well, if that was not enough stupidity emerging from the mouth of Custer, he had to go on and add, “Let’s kick their ass and get the hell out of here.” Custer gives meaning to the phrase, “being wrong on both counts.” While power and confidence can be inspiring when men need to follow, wrong assumptions verbalized about it can get people killed.
Then there are those things spoken which are used to highlight one’s perceptions and analytical ability. There are tons of those attributable to God only knows who. You have heard many of them like, “Hold my beer and watch this!” or “Stand back, I’ve seen this done on TV.” Better yet, “Ha, they’ll never hit us at this range!” or “Of course it’s safe” These are the commentaries we hear from our wisest of friends when we are at that impressionable age where our choices put us in constant danger of which we are not aware.
We also use the spoken word in an attempt to lessen the potential impact and make others feel more comfortable. “It’s probably just a rash” is a good example. Another would be, “Don’t worry, it’s not contagious.” “The odds of that happening have to be one in a million”, so go ahead, give it a try. Some of have the power to talk people into jumping off multi-story buildings thinking they will feet first and walk home. Makes ya’ feel good, don’t it?
Politicians are the masters of stupidity when it comes to use of the spoken word. Politicians long to appear intelligent, analytical, and foretellers of the future. Former Senator Bob Dole once observed, “Society is not to blame for crime; criminals are!” Former Vice-President, Dan Quayle, remarked, “I deserve respect for the things I didn’t do.” He also wisely observed, “If we do not succeed, then we run the risk of failure.” Tipping his hat to the south, Quayle observed, “Unfortunately, the people of Louisiana are not racist.” Then Al Gore reminded us, “During my time in the Senate, I took the initiative in creating the Internet.” Politicians fog the lens of stupidity and make it difficult to determine whether the public can really hear.
Just the other day, I heard a comedian say that he had walked by a Victoria’s Secret shop in the mall. A very attractive female salesperson stood out front inviting people into the store. As the comedian approached, she turned to him and said, “Come on in, our bras are 50% off today.” Being the comedian that he was, he quickly responded with, “No thanks, I prefer to come by when your bras are 100% off.” She never got it and of course the comedian felt like a failure.
Our tongues can be as sharp as straight razors and cut just as deep. Conversely, they can be as clumsy as a boat paddle waving around in the air doing everything but what it was designed to do. When it comes to our tongues and the spoken word, we sure could use a neon sign out there flashing in our eyes that says, “Caution, engage brain before opening your mouth.” There are a few things in this life that we just cannot get back, one is the last moment that just past and the other is the words we speak. Of the latter, the best we can do is ask forgiveness and be a bit more careful next time. Watch what ya’ say!
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